Last week WA Business News ran a 12-page feature on Port and Transport with Fremantle at the centre of these key infrastructure challenges. There were quite a few articles but I have posted one below by Dan Wilkie & Mark Pownall. Great to see this issue getting some in depth coverage.
You also would have seen Prof Newman making the case for an early investment in an outer harbour in the West
The worst result would be a road only freight freeway as far as Marmion Street as planned. Let’s hope we get some better long term planning than that for Perth’s most expensive ever road project.
Policy failure clogs city streets
CONGESTION remains the big urban issue for
policy makers in Perth, where the population hit 2 million last month, but
observers are wondering what is being done about it amid predictions
the number of residents is likely to more than double in just 35 years.
This week, a report by demographer Bernard Salt based on
Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed that Perth’s population
was estimated to rise to more than 4.6 million by 2050, bumping
Brisbane as the country’s third largest city.
While that news might elicit groans from Perth residents
already seeking to cope with crowded roads and packed trains,
attractions such as lifestyle and the relatively steady Western
Australian economy provided by resources are likely to keep
attracting people, albeit not necessarily at the pace of the past
decade. Importantly, the consequences
of congestion are a lot more than inconvenience for commuters – a
2007 federal government report estimated that by 2020, gridlock in
Perth could cost the WA economy $2.1 billion.
Motoring organisation RAC of WA backs spending on public
transport. It is critical of the shift from the visionary planning
that set the Perth development agenda in the middle of past century
to the short-term thinking of 2015, which has led to the state
government dropping the ball on infrastructure already vital to
meet current demand, let alone future needs.
RAC group chief executive Terry Agnew said the state government
launched a draft Public Transport for Perth in 2013 plan and talked
about a Moving People Network Plan, neither of which appears to
In 2011, when the draft public transport plan was launched, the
government suggested that more than $4 billion would be required
for public transport network and fleet expansion until 2031, and
that annual operating costs will have almost doubled from $690
million to $1.2 billion in 2010-dollar terms.
However instead of progress on these broader plans, the state
government has launched various piecemeal solutions, only
to then put some on the back burner as costs rose or political
Some of those solutions that are either under way or soon to commence
include: widening both the Mitchell and Kwinana freeways at
key choke points; the Gateway WA project around Perth Airport; the
upcoming Perth Freight Link; and the $2 billion Forrestfield-Airport
But Mr Agnew said even with those upgrades, Perth still had a
clear infrastructure gap.
“That gap will only widen, all projections show that,” Mr Agnew
told Business News.
“If you don’t have these long-range plans how do you get any
investment? “As a result you run the risk of
being reactive and short-term.” Mr Agnew said RAC had
watched the issue of congestion and infrastructure development
closely, even working with the state government on ways to use
technology to better coordinate traffic signals and improve flow.
He said the group was still working through auditor-general
Colin Murphy’s recent report, which criticised state spending
on main roads for not focusing on data that showed its efforts were relieving congestion.
While the report was a largely positive critique of Main Roads’
performance, it also underlined there was no clear plan forward
to deal with congestion issues.
The report showed that neither the Department of Transport nor
Main Roads had set objectives or performance targets to manage
congestion, while Main Roads also doesn’t actually know if its
road upgrade programs improve the issues.
However, Main Roads did develop a Traffic Congestion
Management Strategy in 2013, identifying 49 projects and initiatives
to address congestion, but the auditor-general said it was not
clear how those were selected or prioritised.
“One thing that initially hit us was this whole question of
coordination across departments,” Mr Agnew said.
“That goes back, again, to ‘where is the blueprint?
“There is not a lot in the past five decades that lays out that
sort of blueprint. “Are Main Roads doing that?
According to the auditor-general’s report they are, but it is part of the
issue that there is not grand plan that they can hook their decisions
While the RAC wants to see a long-term plan, it also believes
there are immediate requirements, with the shelved light rail
line proposed from the CBD to Mirrabooka a project that ought
to be restarted as a priority.
In fact, apart from a few items, including spending on cycleways,
the RAC matches its rhetoric on the bigger picture by avoiding too
much project-by-project analysis.
It wants to see the curren ttransport network better utilised
by technology that offers a great deal more bang for the buck
across the whole of Perth.
The RAC also wants to see the federal government give back
more to the state in funds it extracts from WA motorists.
In a call reminiscent of the current GST debate, the RAC claims
just 41 cents in every dollar paid in motoring taxes such as the fuel
excise are returned to WA. The rest is spent on east coast projects,
Aside from the Mitchell and Kwinana freeways, one of the
bigger choke points in Perth is around Fremantle Port, as well as
the major roads that feed into it.
About 2,600 trucks access Fremantle Port each day, with delays
due to congestion becoming a serious issue around Stirling Bridge
and Tydeman Road, particularly in peak hour.
Improving access to the port is a clear priority of the state government,
through the Perth Freight Link – a $1.6 billion upgrade to Roe
Highway, Stock Road, Leach Highway and Stirling Highway.
The road has been flagged to become Perth’s first toll road,
although only heavy vehicle users will be charged to use it.
But Mr Agnew said he was wary of the introduction of toll
roads in WA without a ground-up approach to way roads are funded,
to ensure the cost was equitable and its use as a price signal was
“Otherwise it is just another tax,” he said. “It needs to start with ‘what is
Notwithstanding the toll debate, Fremantle Mayor Brad
Pettitt said the project, which has been facilitated by $925 million
in federal government funding, would do little to address congestion
Mr Pettitt said it was fair to say the Perth Freight Link was a
project that took all the key stakeholders largely by surprise.
“We’ve always supported having some upgrades to that
road, that certainly has to occur, but the level of upgrade
where we’re actually creating a freeway-style road though Roe
Highway, almost to the port, is one that has never actually been
entertained at any level of government before,” Mr Pettitt told
“It’s extraordinarily expensive but it doesn’t integrate rail and
doesn’t actually reach the port; it’s a road that goes three quarters
of the way to the port and then stops.
“Stirling Bridge is already one of the key congestion points of the freight link, and this doesn’t
resolve that key congestion point.
“It merely means trucks can drive faster until they get to the
bridge, but they will get stuck on the same bridge.”
Mr Pettitt said the Perth Freight Link was a prime example of how
policy responses to congestion were missing the mark, largely
because they were narrowly focused on roads instead of an
integrated transport strategy.
He said the City of Fremantle was committed to keeping the
port as a working port, but access issues needed to be addressed
by putting more freight on rail, rather than roads.
“At the moment, the only way to get freight out of the port (on rail)
is over the passenger rail line,” Mr Pettitt said.
“That has to be shared with passenger rail, so that means freight
can’t run during the day most of the time because the gaps
between the passenger trains aren’t long enough.
“Then it runs through the west end of Fremantle and down past
South Beach, using some very nice coastal land.
“That’s no longer the optimum route for freight on rail, and it
should be looked at as part of an integrated transport plan, but
there’s been none of that.
Stirling Bridge is already one of the key Congestion points of the freight link,
and this doesn’t resolve that key congestion point – Brad Pettitt
“It’s simply a road project ._ all building bigger roads does is defer congestion
a couple of years into the future at great expense.
“The only way you can support this road as a good investment of public funds is if it
was actually part of an integrated transport
plan that included rail.”
Light rail saviour?
Another key plank of a whole-of-network approach to tackling the city’s congestion
conundrum, according to Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker, is the
recently shelved light rail network (more details page 18).
The state government is examining the possibility of providing a link to Mirrabooka
through a rapid bus network, but a recent Committee for Perth research report
revealed light rail would not only provide more of a financial benefit, it would also be
more efficient at moving people.
The report predicted that, by 2031, the percentage of commuters travelling to the
city using public transport would increase from 47 per cent to nearly 70 per cent.
Ms Fulker said buses would not attract enough commuters to bridge that gap, while
they also would not have the knock-on effects to reduce congestion that building
a light rail network would.
“Light rail is not just a mobility solution, it also starts to facilitate density around
appropriate locations,” Ms Fulker said.
“Developers take their cue from the government.
“The government puts the infrastructure in the ground and developers know that’s
where the opportunity is. A bus system is not going to produce that.”
The City of Fremantle also recently floated its own plans for a light rail network,
to link the port city more closely with the Cockburn Coast, Murdoch and
But Mr Pettitt said the launch of that proposal earlier this year had prompted no
response from the state government.
“We’ve been pragmatic in knowing that, given that MAX had been shelved, this project
wasn’t going to happen soon,” he said.
“But we realise that good transport planning is about mapping out your transport
routes for decades ahead, so when the political and the funding sources align that you’re
ready to go and you can do these projects.
“Having light rail running to the south and east of us is essential for Fremantle’s
future, and it will happen.
“It’s just a question of when rather than if, and that’s why it is important that we made
it really clear that it is one of the council’s key strategic priorities going forward.”