Australias love affair with the road threatens liveability

Australia’s long love affair with the car has placed the country at risk of a transport infrastructure network that is ill-equipped to cope with projected populations.

Traffic moving through a city

Currently, about two-thirds of Australia’s 24 million residents reside in capital cities. With the country’s overall population expected to grow to 46 million by 2047, we will need to manage the flow of up to an additional 14 million residents through our capital cities in just 30 years, not to mention tourist populations and then there is the whole matter of Autonomous Vehicles – whatever their eventual effect will be on road usage and carrying capacity we cannot ignore it. 

Historically, Australia has been a leader when it comes to roadways. However, when looking at the current infrastructure mix and its ability to meet future needs, it becomes evident this tendency to prioritise road transport has left us behind as our cities continue to boom and populations densify. 

It is time we move away from roads as a key infrastructure focus; instead we should look to embrace mobility oriented public transport. 

Top of industry body Infrastructure Australia’s priority list is managing urban congestion. While this is a valid key priority, the current methods outlined can go further. Of the four high priority projects outlined to tackle urban congestion, three are road projects. Logically, we know roadways can only achieve so much and do not offer a viable long-term solution if developed in isolation. The infrastructure industry should seek to seize the opportunity to establish a new transport legacy, focused on meeting future needs through best-in-class public transport.

It is time we move from a heritage of highways and freeways, to intelligent mass transit with a view to not just playing catch up with global counterparts, but establishing leading practices and a second “golden era” of rail. We are starting to see the beginning of this with Metro Rail systems but we still have a long way to go.

Currently, while we are seeing increased transport investment from the likes of New South Wales and Victoria, the specific projects – on completion – will put us on par with other nations rather than ahead. At this point, our population growth outpaces other developed nations, meaning establishing an “as good” transport network is not enough. 

Reassuringly, stronger investment in rail is on the agenda, as outlined in Infrastructure Australia’s Plan. The missing key to achieving the proposed reform is further commitment from the public sector and State and Territory leaders. 

Roads alone will not be able to manage the projected population growth. The outcome of insufficient consideration of our public transport network now will mean pain for residents in the future. It is now on the industry together with the public sector to lead the development of a long term solution for Australia.

It has never been more important to get the transport infrastructure mix right. While Australia has focused on roads, our counterparts across the Asia Pacific region have leapt ahead and in doing so provide a great blueprint for us to establish our own solution. 

Australia’s current investment in infrastructure (1.6 per cent of GDP), outpaces that of all other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) nations. Rather than misapplying these funds by expanding an unsustainable road network, we should look to leading infrastructure developments across the region and take the opportunity to learn from our peers. 

A holistic, considered transit network that allows for radial transport, improved commutes and access to facilities will ultimately lead to a better quality of life for residents. With the right resources allocated to research and planning we can achieve a sustainable transport system, with greatly improved outcomes for the Australian population.

Phil Kajewski

Managing Director of Infrastructure Ask me a question