Perth Freight Link gets Infrastructure Australia pounding


Assessment brief shines spotlight on shortcomings of enormous WA project

Perth Freight Link gets Infrastructure Australia pounding
Tydeman Road intersection on the way to Fremantle port’s North Quay.

Western Australian government’s Perth Freight Link (PFL) has taken a heavy hit with Infrastructure Australia’s (IA’s) release of its ‘assessment brief’ on the $1.74 billion project.

IA did accept that there was "economic merit" to state government’s preferred option, that it aligns with certain IA strategic priorities and that it was better than a previous project that is currently at ‘threshold’ on IA’s ‘priority list’.

However, for IA, the positives struggled against shortfalls, bias and sloppy appraisal.

This allowed opponents to pounce on three particular shortcomings:

  • while the state government claimed a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 2.5:1, AI could only say it was confident the figure was more than 1.0:1
  • of the 12 shortlisted and, of those, four high-rated options, only the preferred option was subject to a "rapid BCR"
  • the options did not include consideration of Outer Harbour at Cockburn Sound south of Perth, where the city’s port expansion is proposed.

"Infrastructure Australia notes that the options identification and assessment for this project could have been improved by undertaking quantitative modelling of traffic and economic impacts for multiple short listed options," the brief reads.

"The multi-criteria assessment used has significant weaknesses. In particular, criteria weights used allocate 80% of the weight to benefits and only 20% to costs.

"This is likely to bias assessment against low cost options and in favour of higher cost options.

"Further, the assessment of options has had limited reliance on objective quantitative evidence."

The PFL proposes a 5.2 km Roe Highway extension (Roe 8) from its current terminus at Kwinana Freeway to Stock Road in Coolbellup.

There would be capacity upgrades to Stock Road, Leach Highway and Stirling Highway, with intersection improvements and widening to remove traffic lights and enable free flowing heavy vehicle movements.

It would provide a 4.3 km freeway along Stock Road from Roe Highway Extension to Leach Highway and a new 3.9 km grade-separated four-lane arterial road from Stock Road to Stirling Highway north to Marmion Street.

Despite the proposal’s freight focus, leading opponent and Green senator Scott Ludlam insists the gains would be underwhelming.

"The IA report damns the Freight Link proposal with faint praise: the project only accrues a 9% value to freight traffic, which implies that planners are assuming the freeway will fill up with private passenger traffic," Ludlam, fresh from being rebuffed in his attempt to have the state government’s business case tabled in the Senate, says.

"This is a feeble return when the Government's entire argument is based on taking trucks off the road and building us a freight network for the future."

Adding weight to the critique on the projects trucking benefits, AI highlights its opposition to the use of freight-only road charging in this case and, by extension, nationally where benefits are accrue generally.

"This charge will only apply to heavy vehicles, but Infrastructure Australia believes that the proponent could investigate broadening the charge to other road users," the brief reads.

"The proponent will construct the project and the heavy vehicle charging infrastructure and then hold or sell the future revenue stream.

"Analysis shows that this maximises the expected value of the revenue stream, although this approach results in the State Government taking on considerable greenfield traffic risk.

"The proponent should provide further detail, or present a sensitivity analysis so this risk can be evaluated. Infrastructure Australia supports the use of user charging as a funding source for the project."

How the PFL links in with existing planning and policy was also called into question, with state Labor highlighting the IA’s list of documents where it is missing.

These are:

  • State Planning Strategy 2050 and Metropolitan Region Scheme
  • Directions 2031 and Beyond
  • Murdoch Specialised Activity Centre Structure
  • Draft Moving People Network Plan
  • WA Regional Freight Transport Network Plan
  • Draft Perth Freight Transport Network Plan
  • Draft State Port Strategic Plan
  • Fremantle Port Inner Harbour Port Development Plan.

Premier Colin Barnett defended of the project in state parliament, saying Fremantle port’s growth would continue for decades, regardless of the $3-5 billion Outer Harbour development at Cockburn Sound, which itself would take 10 years to complete if go-ahead was decided now.

Barnett notes the size of PFL meant much work still needed to be done on it.

"Like any big project, it is complex, it is expensive and it will take some time," he says.

On the existing need, he was supported by transport minister Dean Nalder, who reiterated that truck-related incidents on the Leach Highway were presently "more than double the rest of the metropolitan average", and that Outer Harbour would take 10-15 years to complete.

Asked why there was not more focus on shifting containers to rail, Nalder pointed out that even with a bipartisan aim of getting 30 per cent off road, from the present 14.2 per cent, trucks would still shift 70 per cent of a growing number.

"We are saying we want to create a dedicated route to shift those trucks away from suburban roads and highways," he says.

AI’s brief can be found here.

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