A great advantage of living in the 21st century is that rapidly evolving technology is constantly making life easier.
One area in which the liberating nature of technology is not well understood is its application to transport.
Not so long ago, motorists using the Sydney Harbour Bridge had to stop their vehicle and pay coins at a toll booth.
But smart infrastructure means it’s now all handled by computers, ensuring fewer delays and smoother traffic flows.
In the same way, modern smart infrastructure allows authorities to change traffic flows and lane availability according to the time of day, meaning we can get better value out of existing roads.
With traffic congestion predicted to cost our nation $53 billion a year by 2031 unless action is taken now, Australia must increase its use of technology to make better use of existing roads and railway lines.
That’s why the next Labor government will expand the brief of the independent Infrastructure Australia, asking it to work with state and territory governments to ensure smart infrastructure is incorporated into all future road and rail projects that receive commonwealth funding.
Under federal arrangements, IA advises the government on whether major projects represent value for public money and whether they are properly integrated with the existing transport system. But we’ll add two new criteria for IA assessments: use of smart infrastructure and overall sustainability.
IA will advise on whether designers have optimised the potential for the use of technology to ensure that new pieces of infrastructure are as efficient as possible.
IA also should work with state governments to determine whether the outcomes sought by the construction of a new road can be achieved by applying smart infrastructure to existing roads, therefore avoiding the need to build new roads from scratch.
Governments must always be open to the ways in which the advance of technology can make projects more efficient or cheaper to deliver than might have been thought previously.
Another great example is the proposal for construction of a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.
While the Coalition has done nothing to advance this project since taking office, rail companies around the world are clamouring to talk to the Australian Government about fast rail in Australia.
Labor has announced previously that in government we would establish a high speed rail authority to begin to acquire the corridor for this project before it is built out by urban sprawl. But on top of this existing plan, we will also ask the authority to work towards gathering expressions of interest from global high-speed rail companies.
Rather than doing nothing, we need to ask the experts what the march of technology offers in terms of getting this visionary project off the ground sooner rather than later.
High-speed rail would be a game changer for interstate travel and would turbocharge economic development in regional centres along its route including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the NSW central coast, southern highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.
It also would significantly reduce carbon emissions, which brings me back to sustainability.
In recent months there has been much talk from the government about its interest in improving the operation of Australian cities to make them more productive and sustainable, and to improve urban living standards.
The next Labor government will do more than just talk about cities.
As well as requiring incorporation of smart technology in new infrastructure projects, we’ll also have Infrastructure Australia work with proponents of infrastructure projects to consider sustainability measures as a precondition for federal funding.
For example, it’s no secret that an increasing number of Australians are using bicycles or walking to avoid traffic jams and improve their health.
So when we build a new road or railway line, we should consider whether it would make sense to include an adjacent cycling or walking track so we are providing options not only for cars but also for those who want to leave their cars at home.
Putting the two together, a new road equipped with smart infrastructure will reduce traffic congestion.
But if it also makes it easier for people to leave their cars at home by incorporating provision for active transport, the community gets a triple pay-off — less congestion, a better road and the positive health outcomes that come with people walking or cycling to work.
In the same way, when a state government builds a new train line, it should design stations that include secure places for commuters to leave their bicycles, such as at the new Regional Rail Link stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale in outer Melbourne.
These new sustainability and smart infrastructure conditions will revitalise IA. They come in addition to Labor’s existing policy to have IA administer a $10bn infrastructure financing facility aimed at attracting more private investment for public projects..
Under Labor, Infrastructure Australia will be transformed from a passive assessor of infrastructure proposals to a central player in the national infrastructure scene, making it easier to get projects off the ground and ensuring that those projects represent value for money and contribute to a more sustainable future.
Anthony Albanese is opposition spokesman for infrastructure, transport, cities and tourism.
This piece appeared in today’s edition of The Australian – http://bit.ly/1LV2efc
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.