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Cross River Rail is not the only infrastructure needed in Queensland

Based on the furore surrounding Brisbane’s Cross River Rail (CRR) anyone could be forgiven for thinking that it is the only infrastructure that Queensland needs.  Let me be clear this is a vital project for Queensland’s economic future but it is not the only project needed for our State.

Firstly in acknowledging CRR, it unquestionably offers a solution to capacity constraints in our existing transport system for trips to and from the Brisbane CBD stemming from strong population and employment growth in South East Queensland.

CRR’s business case confirmed that the benefit-cost ratio for the project is 1.4, that is for every dollar spent Queensland would receive 1.4 in project benefits. Not bad but to put this into context other major infrastructure projects have significantly higher BCRs including Legacy Way Tunnel 2.08, Inland Rail 2.62, Brisbane Metro 1.91, Ipswich Motorway 3.2 and Gateway Motorway Upgrade North 4.9.*

CRR is amid fierce competition with other projects to attract funding.  A positive BCR is not necessarily a decisive factor when it is lower than other projects that are yet to be funded.

Infrastructure Australia only recently and controversially did not include the project on the 'Infrastructure Priority List' citing that the benefits of the proposed project, as set out in the business case, were in their opinion overstated.   Regardless the resulting hullabaloo was moot as the State Government had already committed to funding the project independent of any Federal Government contribution.

The point of this blog is that I have considerable concerns that CRR is crowding out scrutiny of the bigger picture whereby State Government infrastructure spend has been in massive decline and other infrastructure projects are vitally needed.

State Government infrastructure spending as a percentage of the economy is essentially a third of what it was at the peak in 2007-08 and this is having profound implications for the economic benefit cascaded across the economy.  It is sobering that Queensland construction and engineering companies have progressively looked interstate for opportunity as Queensland’s infrastructure spend has diminished and resulting workforces and investment have contracted considerably.

At present Queensland is underspending relative to the decade average to the tune of approximately $4.6 billion each year.  Even the State Infrastructure Plan (SIP) released earlier this year does not make up for it.  The SIP does marginally increase infrastructure spend across the forward estimates of the State Budget (as can be seen above) but it also unfortunately highlights the significant divide between the infrastructure that we can afford and the infrastructure that the State needs.

In my view the State Government must urgently boost infrastructure spend on ‘good projects’ (those that have positive benefit to cost ratio) and there are plenty of good projects waiting in the wings:

  • Ipswich Motorway Rocklea–Darra Stage 1c - Southern Brisbane-Ipswich road network capacity
  • M1 Pacific Motorway – Gateway Motorway merge upgrade - Road network capacity Brisbane–Gold Coast
  • Bruce Highway Upgrade – Cooroy to Curra Section C - Road network capacity Wide Bay-Burnett region
  • Bruce Highway Upgrade – Mackay Ring Road Stage 1 - Road network capacity Mackay region
  • M1 Pacific Motorway upgrade – Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes - M1 Pacific Motorway capacity
  • Inland Rail (Melbourne to Brisbane via inland NSW) - Freight connectivity Melbourne-Brisbane
  • Ipswich Motorway Rocklea–Darra - (remaining sections) - Southern Brisbane-Ipswich road network capacity
  • Port of Brisbane dedicated freight rail connection - Freight rail access to Port of Brisbane
  • Brisbane to Gold Coast transport corridor upgrades - Brisbane to Gold Coast transport capacity
  • Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade  - Queensland north coast rail congestion
  • Cunningham Highway – Yamanto to Ebenezer /Amberley upgrade  - Cunningham Highway – Yamanto to Ebenezer /Amberley congestion
  • Bruce Highway upgrade - Queensland coastal cities connectivity
  • Mount Isa–Townsville rail corridor upgrade - Mt Isa–Townsville rail capacity
  • Gladstone Port land and sea access upgrade - Land and sea access to Port of Gladstone
  • Lower Fitzroy River water Infrastructure development - opportunity to develop industry and agriculture in Fitzroy region

Source: Infrastructure Australia

These projects and the current $4.6 billion underspend in my opinion are being overlooked with the diversion, distraction and argy bargy around CRR.  

There are many potential funding options on the table for the above projects but the only narrative at present from the State Government is that the Federal Government is not meeting its obligations towards the Sunshine State.  I believe there is some merit around this point despite past contributions towards NBN, Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, Bruce Highway Upgrade, Gateway North and light rail for the Gold Coast.

It is disappointing that the Federal and State Governments appear to be unable to work together.  However there are ample options available to the State Government regardless of whether the Federal Government is or is not spending enough and these are being overlooked. These funding options include:

It is important that Queensland’s infrastructure networks are the enablers of future economic growth.  The next State Government has to come up with a plan as to how it will fund the infrastructure that our expansive and decentralised State needs to continue to grow.

In summary, Brisbane’s CRR is important but it is not the only infrastructure required and there are a range of funding options available once we choose to get serious about addressing the massive infrastructure underspend that is occurring at present.

*Some caution should be exercised in comparing BCRs due to differing discount rates and project lifespans.

 

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