Page 3363 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 23 September 2015

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Some might argue that upgrading roads earlier than needed is simply futureproofing. What it actually does, though, is ensure that we will have a future dominated by car travel. We know that entrenches all kinds of problems and challenges, from economic to environmental. Instead of upgrading when it is not needed, those funds can be invested elsewhere, such as in sustainable transport infrastructure—infrastructure that would then actually mitigate the need to pay for future road upgrades.

Northbourne Avenue and light rail provide a good example of this. We could undertake difficult and costly roadworks on Northbourne now. We could try and add additional capacity for cars. What would happen then is that the fast-growing population of Canberra’s north would continue to use the road by travelling in their cars. The road would fill up with congestion again and we would be faced with an intractable problem. Instead, we are taking the smart solution. We are taking action now by investing in light rail, a long-term and sustainable transport solution that also brings our city a myriad of other benefits.

The government professes a commitment to building a sustainable city based on sustainable transport principles. It produced the transport for Canberra plan, which included ambitious mode shift targets, with a promise to move Canberrans out of cars and onto sustainable transport. It produced a long-term public transport network map, locking in the key public transport corridors. These policies are to be commended, and they do look good on paper. But these promises require concerted efforts over a long period of time to actually fulfil.

In terms of becoming a city of true sustainable transport, Canberra is really only a fledgling. Light rail is the first major step to turning around our historical patterns of transport and development. There is substantial work still to be done and many difficult decisions to be made. We need to prioritise where to put our limited transport funding. And on that issue of transport funding, we should not forget that this government already invests very heavily in roads. It is not as though roads are neglected; we have the best road infrastructure in the country. It is not just me saying that; it is assessed as the best by the Engineers Australia infrastructure report, for example.

In the last 10 years the government has invested over $1 billion in roads. The 2014-15 budget alone contained over $500 million of roadworks in progress. The disproportionate focus on roads compared to sustainable transport has been stark. Yet the government commits to a major public transport project, for practically the first time in its history, and the opposition has decided that it is more or less the end of the world.

With these principles in mind—that we are committed to a sustainable city, dominated by sustainable transport, and that we have to spread limited transport funds appropriately—let us look at the Cotter Road duplication project in a little more detail. Let us think carefully about what the duplication of Cotter Road would mean for transport in this city. Is it our expectation that Molonglo is going to develop around the car and that we want everyone leaving that district to travel by car? I do not think we should commit to that.

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