Local highway funding was ‘political’

A NEW report says “political considerations” were clearly a factor in lavish upgrades to the New England Highway, despite relatively low levels of traffic compared to other major routes.
Nanjing Night Net

Respected think-tank the Grattan Institute has found too much taxpayer money has been “spent on the wrong projects in the wrong places”, during a period that marked the highest levels of spending on transport infrastructure in Australia’s history.

By analysing the expense of major road and rail projects against the level of demand, the institute has uncovered the nation’s worst projects, including several rural highways.

The New England Highway is one of three major roads running through marginal seats to have government funding lavished on costly upgrades due to “political considerations”, the report found.

The report found political considerations were “clearly a factor” in spending on roads such as the New England Highway.

“What we see is a pattern of spending that is quite politicised,” the institute’s director of transport and cities, Marion Terrill, said.

“Often these projects have low net benefits – or they have net costs.”

The federal, NSW and Queensland governments have collectively spent

$2.1 billion during the past decade on the New England Highway.

That amounts to 9 per cent of all road funding for the so-called national network outside the country’s capital cities.

In fact, more taxpayer money has been directed to the New England Highway in the past 10 years on a per-vehicle-kilometre basis than the Pacific Highway, the most heavily used in the country, the report found.

In the same period, the number of trucks using the New England Highway dropped, and rose on the Pacific Highway.

The institute cited major roads between Colac and Geelong in Victoria, and Bell Bay and Launceston in Tasmania, as other examples of highways within or close to swing electorate seats that have had expensive upgrades.

The Grattan Institute said the record of successive governments’ spending on roads gave people little confidence in where and how taxpayer money was used.

“Too often, political considerations come ahead of the public interest,” its report says.

The institute wants state governments to commit money to transport projects only after a “rigorous, independent, like-for-like evaluation” has been tabled in Parliament and recommended a similar arrangement for federal ministers.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the state government set up Infrastructure NSW as an independent body to “take politics out of the delivery of major projects”, and ensure funds were directed on strategic and economic merit.

Shadow federal transport minister Anthony Albanese said Infrastructure Australia needed to be “taken seriously” to break the nexus between short-term political cycles and long-term transport projects.

However, federal Transport Minister Darren Chester said the government’s

$50 billion infrastructure investment program was based on “merit-based assessment processes”, while Infrastructure Australia conducted cost-

benefit analyses of proposals seeking $100 million or more in federal money.

Money well spent, Windsor says

Tony Windsor

NEW England independent candidate Tony Windsor has raised concerns about the Grattan Institute report, saying the money used to upgrade local roads was well spent.

Mr Windsor said he fought for years to successfully obtain funding for the Bolivia Hill deviation and the Tenterfield bypass in the 2013 budget.

He took offence at suggestions some of this money should not have been spent in the New England electorate.

“The death trap of Bolivia Hill should not be used as a plaything in terms of making a point about strategic road funding by think-tank dreamers,” Mr Windsor said.

The conclusions reached in the Grattan Institute report should not be used as an excuse to revisit funding proposals such as Bolivia Hill and the Tenterfield bypass, he said.

Mr Windsor said he respected the Grattan Institute but believed it had a consistent theme of being city-centric in relation to many of its reports.

“It would be good to see some of these organisations put their minds towards the totality of infrastructure – roads, rail, air and broadband technology – rather than the silo approach that tends to exist where specific interests are involved,” he said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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