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Tunnels the 'result of poor planning'

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon believes Brisbane's network of tunnels is a result of ...

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon believes Brisbane's network of tunnels is a result of failed urban planning. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

As Brisbane's $1.5 billion Legacy Way tunnel project reaches another milestone, top infrastructure minds say governments need to act now to avoid the “last resort” of going underground again in the future.

Acting Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner this week announced a Wacol factory had produced the tunnel's 20,000th concrete segment, putting Brisbane City Council's largest transport infrastructure project on track to open in 2015.

But Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon said the growing network of tunnels dissecting the city's underground represented little more than decades of failed urban planning.

His comments follow calls from Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd, published this week in the Australian Financial Review, that the nation ends its “obsession with tunnels” that can cost well over $200 million a kilometre, about four times more than surface roads, according to UK research.

"Tunnel-itis, as I call it, has contributed significantly to the cost of inner urban roads and railways. People have got to recognise that," Mr Shepherd told the AFR.

However Mr Lyon said the situation in Queensland is so dire, it was likely the state would build more subterranean development in the years to come, and they would likely be funded by sale of state assets – a reality the government “ultimately needed to front up to”.

He said although deep cuts to the public service were would go some way to covering costs, the scale of investment needed meant the private sector would also have to be wooed.

“We need to start seeing a bit of a discussion about where there are assets sitting on the books, particularly in the energy sector in Queensland, and how that can help the state to restore its financial capacity and be able to fund some of these urgent projects like the Cross River Rail, and potentially like Kingsford Smith Drive Stage 3,” Mr Lyon said.

“One of the reasons our transport infrastructure program is so expensive in major cities is that we haven't made long-term decisions to protect surface corridors for future transport connections, and that's why we had to see a suite of tunnels developed.

"It means there is no other option for the immediate to medium-term list of projects that need to be developed – we're going to have to tunnel because there's no other option.”

Mr Lyon said the state and local governments in Queensland needed to make the right long-term decisions when developing strategic infrastructure plans, but the first step was releasing a “clear vision” for infrastructure in the short, medium and long terms – up to 40 years down the track.

Based on current population projections, which show staggering growth for the region, Mr Lyon said likely projects could include a far-western orbital in Brisbane and a higher speed train service between the Gold Coast and the capital city.

While he admitted predicting the future could carry costly consequences – miscalculated traffic modelling for the Clem7 Tunnel was a key factor in RiverCity Motorway's collapse – Mr Lyon said the marginal cost of protecting undeveloped land now was far less than those attached to subsequent land resumptions for tunnelling the future.

But overcoming governmental reticence to invest in projects with little to no short-term kick-back was a factor that first needed to be overcome, Mr Lyon said, and he called for governments to start buying up land for future use now.

“Whether you use it ultimately for a rail line or a road line ... having the land available means you've got the options and you can later make the choice,” he said.

“No-one's saying these projects – these long-run, future projects – are bankable in the short-term. They're not, they're not required yet, but one of things that the public sector does control is where housing is going, so that should give them a very clear picture of where transport infrastructure will be required in the future.”

That picture was particularly important if the government was to attract the levels of private investment needed to minimise investment from the state's coffers, Mr Lyon said.

Although the massive losses suffered by Clem7 investors scared the market, Mr Lyon said people were willing to take a reasonable amount of risk if they were better informed about the forces at play.

Mr Lyon said former premier Anna Bligh's government had taken several steps towards achieving better infrastructure outcomes, but he described her successor Campbell Newman as an “infrastructure enthusiast” who came from the mayoralty at Brisbane City Council with a focus on transport.

Mr Lyon said governments should also look at “cut and cover” methods, where the infrastructure was placed underground but built from the surface down. This would also help protect some of the underground corridors likely to be needed for metro-rail and busses in the future.

“It seems silly, but it gets very crowded under the city very quickly,” Mr Lyon said.

Cr Schrinner said the council was focused on building critical infrastructure to tackle traffic congestion around the city, with Legacy Way set to cut peak hour travel time by almost half.

"The Lord Mayor has indicated that the next major project after Legacy Way is an expansion of Kingsford Smith Drive and planning and design work is currently under way on the next stages so it can be ready to go once Legacy Way is completed and funding becomes available,” he said.

Cr Schrinner said a feasibility study was currently under way into a bus-only crossing of the Brisbane River and under Adelaide Street, to cater for projected growth in bus passengers over the next 20 years. The feasibility study is expected to be completed by mid-2013.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Scott Emerson said the minister was committed to investing in innovative solutions to address transport capacity and congestion issues.

“Regardless of whether we are building public transport infrastructure or a new road we are committed to delivering better infrastructure and better planning without spending exorbitant amounts of money,” she said.

“While the Brisbane Inner City Rail solution requires a tunnel from Yeerongpilly to Victoria Park our other priorities in southeast Queensland include the Gateway upgrade north as well as the Newman government's ongoing commitment to the Bruce Highway.”

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney joined Mr Emerson and Local Government Minister David Crisafulli to announce yesterday they would travel to Canberra to ask the federal government to forward funding on new Bruce Highway action plan.

Mr Seeney reaffirmed the government's election pledge to contribute an additional $1 billion over the next 10 years off the back of increased commonwealth investment.

The 'Out of the Crisis' plan includes projects already committed over the next 10 years under base funding arrangements, plus additional projects that are needed to repair, improve and flood-proof “Queensland's 1677-kilometre backbone” he said.

The state government's scaled-back version of the Cross River Rail project is currently before Infrastructure Australia.


  • Plan Ahead 40 YEARS !!!! Most politicians are incapable of planning 40 weeks ahead

    Sunshine Coast
    Date and time
    October 25, 2012, 7:11AM
    • In the Premiers Department from the 1960's we did plan for all this - we had the demographics and all the projections and recomendations - its all there - its something us little underpaid Public Servants do for Governments . The information about South East Queensland and its population had been there for decades. . Governments only want to annouch good news stories - and I see nothing has changed , I say with out telling lies we had plans and projections from 1969 through to 2009 , and nothing was done , all that happened was Cherry Picking - and mark my words nothing will change for you younger people when very average governments get elected

      Bob Menzies
      Cannon Hill
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 7:46AM
    • Invest now in rail. It will pay off .. Vroooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmm

      Congestion Capital
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 7:58AM
    • Ozbob , I remenber sitting in Tom Hiley's office in the late 1960's and talking about the decision to lift the Gold Coast railway , we could both see it was a bad decision , Tom laughed saying some other poor Government will have to resume land buy houses and lay the tracks again. We both knew the Gold Coast was going to take off population wise , but the Government had made up its mind . I also remember the detailed plans for Toowoomba to be connected to Brisbane by high speed rail, these plans were getting around since Vince Gairs days . It could have been done the money was there but the will was not.

      Bob Menzies
      Cannon Hill
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 8:39AM
    • Gonna disagree with you Oldman. Politicians can plan till the next election. ;)

      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 9:26AM
    • @ Bob Menzies

      Sadly, the results of all that planning back then was a Brisbane dissected by a spaghetti pile of freeways.

      Before the young reporter writing this story was born, Brisbanites voiced their opinion about above ground freeways - they rejected them.

      Given this, the expensive tunnel is the political answer for a city wanting to drive everywhere at will.

      I suggest the author of this article could have investigated why the policy of enabling private transport above other options has so long existed in Brisbane without serious debate.

      For mine, the answer is a combination of more frequent public transport provision and pricing road use in congested areas.


      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 9:37AM
    • Might that be because of the NIMBY attitude of the electorate and the belief that 'I pay for all the roads with my rego and petrol taxes'. Perhaps if the electorate had some real understanding of the costs involved to build and maintain infrastructure politicians might be brave enough to make real decisions. Public transport is fine but until it can keep pace with demand and be provided at a reasonable most will opt for the convenience and speed of cars.

      The Majority
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 10:03AM
    • Railway expansion is the only real solution to beat traffic congestion in the 21st century and should be planned by one professional authority without political interference from politicians, councillors, road engineers or the road lobby.
      Brisbane needs a world class railway system to bring us up-to-date with the 21st century and we deserve the best public transport facilities available which will save time and billions of dollars in the long term.
      Governments actually save money when more people use public transport because there is less stress on the road network.

      Another way to ease congestion on our roads immediately is to REDUCE public transport fares.

      Politicians and councillors have failed dismally in spending taxpayer funds on genuine transport solutions.
      The zealotry and incompetence of the road lobby has been responsible for the transport planning nightmare that Brisbane has become and billions of dollars have been wasted on unnecessary road expansion.

      Building Cross River Rail now will save billions of dollars in the future and reduce the need for more and more congestion-producing road development.
      CRR will allow for a greater expansion of the railway network and reduce the number of driver-only vehicles on our roads.

      The Federal government is increasing road funding for Qld. from 8.5 - 8.7 billion dollars over the next 4 years.
      Why not spend all of this $8.7 billion on the Cross River Rail project ? Now that really would be a worthwhile way to spend those billions !!
      So to any one who says that we cannot afford CRR here is the solution.

      Rail Fan
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 11:08AM
    • I think if trains ran down the centre of didide roads it would encourage use, if you are sitting in congested traffic watching trains go past you might realise the benefits of PT.

      I think smaller trains with a more frequest timetable is needed. 2-3 carriages every 5 minutes in peak times and 15 minutes in off peak would be better

      Tyrone Biggums
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 11:11AM
    • That's all good and well to say, but in Sydney Whitlam/Uren bought a housing estate in the way of the F4 freeway route to block its development, and Wran was swept into power on the back of the "No Freeways Policy". He then degazetted most of the road corridors and sold off the land. Unfortunately that land included the Northern Beaches railway link. This occurred interstate as well.
      So if citizens complain today about the lack of inner city corridors for road and/or rail infrastructure, then it's our fault for electing governments on the basis of the anti-development fervour of the 1970s/1980s. Paying more for putting off the development of infrastructure by decades and forcing it underground is our fault, and we are being made to pay for it.

      West Footscray
      Date and time
      October 25, 2012, 11:40AM

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