Infrastructure Australia (IA) has added five major road and rail infrastructure projects across Queensland and NSW to its Infrastructure Priority List, after deeming their business cases sound investments.
Among the projects to gain the support of the nation’s independent infrastructure advisor was the NSW Government’s proposal to construct a new four-lane bridge on the Princes Highway over the Shoalhaven River at Nowra.
The Infrastructure Priority List includes four new Priority Projects for Queensland, with a combined value of more than $2 billion:
- Gold Coast Light Rail: Stage 3A
- Bruce Highway – Cooroy to Curra Section D: Woondum to Curra
- Bruce Highway – Deception Bay Road Interchange Upgrade
- Bruce Highway – Maroochydore Road Interchange Project
Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, said IA was pleased to see Queensland’s strong pipeline of business case submissions to Infrastructure Australia continue.
The Infrastructure Priority List provides governments at all levels with a prioritised list of nationally-significant investment opportunities for the near, medium and longer term. Inclusion on the Priority List shows that a proposal has undergone a rigorous business case assessment and has been proven to have significant benefits for the community.
A new bridge to ease congestion in NSW
Ms Madew said that IA’s assessment of the Nowra Bridge Project’s business case found it to be a sound project that would support expected increases in local, regional and tourist traffic, and allow for more efficient movement of freight on the Princes Highway, the main north–south link between Sydney and southern NSW.
“The Nowra Bridge Project involves the construction of a new four-lane bridge immediately to the west of the two existing bridges. The new bridge would carry traffic heading north, enabling the existing northbound bridge, opened in 1981, to be used for traffic heading towards the South Coast. This would allow the historic bridge to be repurposed for community uses,” Ms Madew said.
The existing bridges at Nowra carry more than 50,000 vehicles each day, with the southbound bridge in particular experiencing significant congestion in both the morning and afternoon peaks. Peak hour travel speeds are already extremely slow at 16km/h, and without upgrades, this is expected to deteriorate further to just 7km/h in 2038.
“This will result in significant delays for the region’s growing population, as well as tourists travelling to the South Coast and freight vehicles, which are critical in linking industry to export markets through Port Kembla,” Ms Madew said.
Another key constraint on freight traffic is the fact that the existing southbound bridge cannot carry vehicles that are more than 4.6m tall or Higher Mass Limit B-Double vehicles.
Instead, oversized vehicles have to use the northbound bridge with police escort, which closes access for northbound traffic and adds to congestion along the corridor.
“Congestion and stop-start traffic on the existing bridges at Nowra is a major safety concern. The number of accidents on this section of the highway is significantly higher than for similar roads in NSW with 8.1 crashes per kilometre each year, compared with 1.6 crashes per kilometre on similar roads in NSW. The casualty crash rate of 4.3 per kilometre per year is more than quadruple the state average of 0.9,” Ms Madew said.
“With a stated benefit-cost ratio of 2.2, Infrastructure Australia is confident that the Nowra Bridge Project will offer significant community benefits. By increasing capacity and improving traffic flows, the project would reduce travel times and congestion on the Princes Highway, reduce crash rates and provide southbound access for large freight vehicles.”
Boosting public transport in tourist destinations a priority
Ms Madew said the addition of Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A and three sections of the Bruce Highway upgrade means IA now has over $6 billion worth of nationally-significant projects for Queensland on the Infrastructure Priority List.
“Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A addresses the dual challenges of population growth and high levels of car dependency on the Gold Coast, one of Australia’s major tourism destinations which hosts around 12 million visitors each year,” Ms Madew said.
“With 88 per cent of trips currently by private vehicle and less than 5 per cent by public transport, urban congestion is a major challenge and this is expected to worsen as the Gold Coast’s population grows by an estimated 55 per cent to 928,000 people by 2041.
“Infrastructure Australia’s assessment of the business case for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A found the total benefits of the project to be close to its total costs. We identified two key factors that are critical to delivering value for money: land use changes to promote urban renewal and increase density in surrounding areas, and encouraging more residents to leave the car at home and use the light rail instead.
“Proactive steps taken by the Queensland Government and City of Gold Coast are needed to encourage people to use Stage 3A of the Gold Coast Light Rail, which runs through a less densely populated and has fewer activity centres than Stage 1 and Stage 2.
“Examples of such steps include mode shift and traffic management strategies which highlight the fact that light rail will be more reliable and comfortable for passengers than the existing bus services.”
Key upgrades for Bruce Highway given priority status
The Infrastructure Priority List also recognised the strategic importance of the Bruce Highway, highlighting its progressive upgrade as a Priority Initiative due to its role in the National Land Transport Network and as the primary road transport route on the east coast of Queensland.
Bruce Highway – Cooroy to Curra Section D: Woondum to Curra is the final stage of a four-stage program of works to modernise a 62km stretch of the Bruce Highway between Cooroy and Curra.
According to Ms Madew, Infrastructure Australia’s assessment found that completing Section D would allow the whole-of-program benefits to be realised, including maintaining a consistent posted speed limit and safety standards between Cooroy and Curra.
In addition to Cooroy to Curra Section D, two Bruce Highway interchange upgrade proposals have been added to the Priority List as Priority Projects, in recognition of their value in improving capacity, reliability and safety along the corridor.
“These are both excellent examples of strategic, targeted investments that will deliver material quality of life and productivity benefits for the community,” Ms Madew said.
Bruce Highway – Deception Bay Road Interchange Upgrade is a key connection for commuters travelling to and from Moreton Bay and surrounding regional areas, and also caters to freight travelling between the industrial areas of Moreton Bay and Brisbane.
However, safety on the interchange is a key challenge, with 255 crashes occurring at this interchange or on connector roads in the decade to 2017.
“With a strong benefit-cost ratio of 3.0, the proposed Deception Bay Road interchange upgrade will relieve congestion, and improve safety and freight efficiency. It will also improve access to employment for the Moreton Bay community, providing flow-on economic and social benefits,” Ms Madew said.
IA’s business case noted that the project will improve the average peak hour travel speeds at the interchange, with the evening peak improving by over 100 per cent by 2031 (from 23kph to 50kph), and addressing current and emerging safety issues by reducing projected crash rates by over 40 per cent.
“The Bruce Highway – Maroochydore Road Interchange Project has a similarly strong benefit-cost ratio of 3.2. The Bruce Highway interchanges at Maroochydore Road and Mons Road are congested and accident-prone, largely due to the configuration of these intersections, their proximity to each other and the design of the on- and off-ramps.
“The Bruce Highway Maroochydore Road Interchange Project aims to address the congestion and safety issues at both interchanges by upgrading the Maroochydore Road interchange, reconfiguring entry and exit ramps at Mons Road, constructing new service roads and widening the Mons Road underpass.
“The Queensland Government is commended for engaging with a range of external stakeholders at the strategic planning stage to establish strong local support for the project. As noted in the business case, community consultation has informed the reference design to enhance connectivity and safety outcomes.
“We consider this to be a best practice approach and support efforts to reconnect infrastructure decision-making with the needs of communities,” Ms Madew said.
The updated Infrastructure Priority List is available at www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au.
Infrastructure Australia is currently developing the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List, which is due for release early next year.