The 2017-18 federal budget was marketed as a transformative step in the current government's record on transportation infrastructure.
The investment is expected to create thousands of new jobs across Australia and drive up economic growth and national productivity. Road upgrades and rail upgrades were an essential part of the budget as the road transport industry had highlighted several avenues where immediate investments were required.
Clearly, the federal government has realised the importance of serious investments in infrastructure to boost and increase the number of jobs in the construction industry. While the rail industry has grabbed most of the headlines, the government is committing serious investment to a slew of transportation programs for the foreseeable future.
The new budget makes key commitments to the rail, road, shipping, and air transportation industries. A huge amount of capital was also put forth to improve the safety and compliance standards of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. The investment is intended to modernise the safety and compliance standards of the Australian transport industry. One of the main primary goals of the current budget is to improve road and rail connectivity between metropolitan and rural Australia.
Rail industry sees the biggest investment
The federal government has committed to spending $10 billion over the next decade on the National Rail Program. It is intended to transform the very nature of the rail industry while reducing the burden on Australia's roads. The long-term goal is to encourage a greater number of citizens and businesses to rely on rail infrastructure rather than road infrastructure. According to Darren Chester, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the investment will boost the economy of rural Australia. As to how – we wait and see.
The government has set out $8.4 billion in equity so that the Inland Rail project will be funded. Inland Rail seeks to develop a modern, high-tech freight link between the bustling economies of Brisbane and Melbourne. It shall be the responsibility of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to develop Inland Rail. As of now, the ARTC is expected to use a mixture of public-private partnership and federal equity to develop the project. The project's ultimate goal is to reduce the number of trucks on Australian roads and take advantage of rising global markets. The project is expected to be completed within 7 years.
Road infrastructure has not been neglected
One of the key road investments in the budget includes the Bruce Highway Upgrade Program, and the federal budget has tentatively set aside nearly $850 million in program savings. The details of the program will be negotiated between the Commonwealth and the Queensland government. Upgrading the Wide Bay Highway intersection is another key aspect of the budget along with accelerated construction on the Pine River to Caloundra.
The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity will receive federal funding to the tune of $40 million per year, and numerous other critical safety programs will see funding until at least the financial year 2021. These projects include the Black Spot Programme, the Keys2drive program, and the Road to Recovery Program. In addition, the Commonwealth shall hold detailed inquiries into the National Road Safety Strategy.
Western Australia one of the budget's big winners
The federal government has invested an initial $1.6 billion, possibly rising to $2.3 billion, to initiate massive upgrades in the rail and road infrastructure of Western Australia. As of now, just over $1.2 billion has been allocated to the development of the METRONET and related projects in the state. This funding is subject to the assessment provided by Infrastructure Australia and any changes will be announced immediately after the assessment.
The state will see a minimum of $750 million allocated to the development of roads and related road infrastructure. Some of the key projects include the Leach Highway project and the Armadale Road project. In addition, the Commonwealth has allocated $44.2 million for the improvement of regional road safety in the state. Again – as to how, we wait and see.
Victoria is a big winner in terms of rail improvement
The state of Victoria has been allocated over $1 billion in total for upgrades. Out of this, $500 million is intended solely for the improvement of the state's shoddy rail network. The state asked however for around $1.5 billion for all upgrades and it is possible that we may see the amount of investment increase. Some of the regional lines that will be upgraded include the Geelong Line and the North-East Line.
The state will receive an increase in funding for the Murray Basin Rail project. Around $450 million is expected to be spent on various infrastructure projects across the state, and this amount is subjected to negotiation. The Victorian government is expected to seek an increase in funding in several avenues and this contention is expected to play out for the foreseeable future.
What about air infrastructure?
One of the signature aspects of the budget is the allocation of $5.3 billion towards the construction of a new airport in Sydney (plus $1.7 billion for transport links to it). The airport will be constructed at Badgerys Creek and is expected to be open for business by 2026 at the latest. The budget will establish a new government company that will be tasked with the project's completion. The company will be headed by individuals with strong expertise and background in the private sector. The company will be set up this financial year and tenders for early works will be issued this calendar year. The project is huge as it is projected to deliver long-term benefits for the Sydney economy and the wider Australian economy.
It is important to remember that some of these figures may not be final and will be subject to factors such as government negotiation, and need assessment. Improvements in rail infrastructure are rightly the government's biggest priority considering the poor state of the rail industry in comparison to similar size countries. This budget was called truly a once in a generation package directed to the improvements of several keys aspects of infrastructure.