Budget welcomed but VTA urges productivity focus

Infrastructure cash hailed as a game changer on many fronts but concerns remain

Budget welcomed but VTA urges productivity focus
Melbourne roads: infrastructure was the main budget focus


Victoria’s infrastructure-heavy Budget received the expected bouquets and brickbats along with advice to the State Government beyond the heady mix of infrastructure spending.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) backed the big-ticket infrastructure items but holds concerns that operational issues may be overlooked in the years before theinfrastructure gains can be tapped.

Saying "hats off the Government" for putting the spending into the forward estimates, VTA CEO Neil Chambers nevertheless  urged it not to "drop the ball" on other productivity issues, such as greater access for Higher Productivity Freight Vehicles (HPFVs) and establishing defined freight routes where additional mass will become possible.

"Fantastic as these big-ticket infrastructure announcements are, we must continue to work collaboratively with the Government and its departments and agencies to unlock freight productivity − road and rail − in the coming decade while the large infrastructure projects are planned, designed, and built," Chambers says.

The VTA notes that heavy vehicles will do the "heavy lifting" to pay for the $850 million CityLink-Tulla upgrade

While cars and light commercial vehicles will receive a toll increase "holiday" during construction, heavy vehicles will not (4.5 per cent annual fee escalator extended by one year); and once the infrastructure is upgraded (mid-2017), the "multiplier" for heavy commercial vehicles will rise from 1.9 (or 1.3 cap for full length journeys) to a multiplier of three during the day and a multiplier of two during the night.

Amongst those cheering the effort was the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), saying it would "help to prepare the state for future freight growth", while the Labor opposition picked holes in the detail.

Labor freight and logistics spokeswoman Natalie Hutchins claims significant areas faced cuts.

Hutchins made four main points:

  • No commitment in the Budget to complete the M80 upgrade, after last week’s decision by the Federal Government to redirect $550 million of funding for the completion of the M80. (Budget Paper 3, page 269, reveals a scaling back of Ports and Freight Network Improvements and cuts to Maintenance.)
  • $3.8 million for "Port Rail Shuttle" but no freight intermodal investment for 3.5 years and no business plan
  • Increase in registration fees − $25 for cars and light trucks. The Napthine Government now reaps $1.4 billion from vehicle registration fees, including trucks, which is $797 million more than when it came to office
  • No relief for congestion on the West Gate Bridge until 2024, subject to the Government’s East-West Stage 2 project even getting off the ground.
  • ALC Managing Director Michael Kilgariff was more agreeable to the port rail shuttle.

"The Budget’s confirmation of $58 million for the establishment of Port Rail Shuttle Services acknowledges the importance of improving the efficiency of the supply chain between Australia’s largest container port and Melbourne’s intermodal terminals," Kilgariff says.

He notes that the western section of East West Link was crucialboth as a linkage to the Port of Melbourne and to make the proposed Port of Hastings "work from a landside logistics perspective, as well as to facilitate more efficient freight movements from Melbourne’s western suburbs where many major freight logistics facilities are located".

"This project, combined with the Government’s confirmation that City Link and the Tullamarine Freeway will be upgraded and widened, will help to reduce congestion in the city and improve road freight efficiency," he insists.

The congestion point weighed heavily with the motorists’ body RACV.

RACV General Manager Public Policy Brian Negus says the Budget was "a shot in the arm" for many transport projects.

Noting that the total cost of the transport infrastructure projects committed in the Budget is up to $24 billion, Negus adds that the various road and rail project "are all major city-shaping projects that will combat congestion and boost productivity".

This was echoed by the Australian Industry Group, which commended the "pipeline of projects of new road, rail, port and air infrastructure" that it has been calling for nationally.

The peak group representing Victoria’s 10 largest cities outside of Melbourne, Regional Cities Victoria (RCV) backed the previously announced $220 million committed to funding the Murray Basin Rail Project, a rail standardisation link between Mildura and Geelong.

"This link will improve freight efficiency between northern Victoria and Melbourne’s transport hubs, also removing freight from roads in the regions," RCV Chairman Michael Neoh says. 

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