The budget’s given us the infrastructure investment, now we need the forward thinking

The federal budget is a good and modest step forward with $120 billion over the next decade to revitalise and expand essential infrastructure across the nation, writes Behzad Fatahi.

Behzad Fatahi

Australia’s ageing infrastructure is increasingly becoming a burden, with significant maintenance costs and safety issues arising from deteriorated transport systems and road networks. These problems are exemplified by the burgeoning number of potholes, which not only pose safety risks but also contribute to higher costs of living as individuals face increased vehicle repair expenses.

In response to these challenges, the 2024 Federal Government budget is a good and modest step forward with $120 billion over the next decade to revitalise and expand essential infrastructure across the nation. This investment is aimed at catalysing recovery from the pandemic’s impacts while propelling future economic growth and elevating living standards.

Few infrastructure budget highlights are as below:

  • $1.9 Billion investment for Western Sydney Upgrades targets critical infrastructure improvements including road enhancements to alleviate congestion, future-proofing planning projects, and expanded train services to central Sydney. These enhancements are crucial for supporting Western Sydney’s rapid urbanisation and economic expansion, aiming to improve both traffic flow and public transport efficiency.
  • $3.25 Billion investment in North East Link, Victoria will bridge the Eastern Freeway and M80 Ring Road, closing a vital gap in Melbourne’s freeway network. This project is expected to provide a faster, more reliable commuting route, enhancing the livability of neighborhoods by diverting traffic away from local roads.
  • $2.75 Billion investment for the Brisbane to Sunshine Coast Rail Link is aimed at enhancing connectivity between these major hubs, boosting tourism, and providing essential infrastructure for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.
  • $467 Million investment for Bruce Highway, Queensland focuses on various upgrades to enhance road safety, reduce congestion, and improve flood resilience. As a major arterial route, these enhancements are vital for supporting transportation across Queensland, especially in regions prone to extreme weather events.
  • $50 Million investment for Canberra Light Rail Extension aims to improve public transport options in Canberra, reduce traffic congestion, and support sustainable urban development by extending the city’s light rail network.
  • $78.8 Million investment for a High-Speed Train Line between Sydney and Newcastle is allocated to develop a business case. This project aims to dramatically reduce travel times between Sydney and Newcastle, fostering regional development and reducing the commuter burden.
  • $21 Million investment for the National Road Safety Data Hub focuses on enhancing road safety management across Australia. This initiative will provide accurate, comprehensive data to inform policy decisions and safety measures, aiming to improve road safety nationwide.

It’s worth noting that a major portion of the federal infrastructure investment is facilitated through National Partnership payments, which consist of financial contributions from the Australian federal government to states and territories for specific infrastructure projects.

One significant challenge for states in utilising these payments is the requirement to meet specific conditions and performance benchmarks, which can be restrictive and limit flexibility in project execution.

Moreover, given the inherent uncertainties associated with dependency on federal funding—which can be impacted by shifts in national policy or budgetary constraints, affecting planning and project timelines—a bipartisan approach to infrastructure investment is indeed necessary.

This bipartisan strategy ensures greater long-term certainty and stability, facilitating consistent progress irrespective of changes in political leadership. It helps in aligning infrastructure goals across party lines, ensuring that essential projects receive the necessary support and funding continuity needed for their successful completion and operational sustainability.

Furthermore, central to this infrastructure investment strategy should be the integration of the national innovation and science agenda. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies and innovative practices, the government should aim to significantly reduce the costs associated with construction and maintenance, ensuring the sustainability of infrastructure projects.

This forward-thinking approach would not only promote economic efficiency but also enhance the sector’s ability to adapt to modern engineering and technological advancements.

*Professor Behzad Fatahi is Deputy Head, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

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