Despite having constructed some of the biggest, widest and longest freeways in the world, congestion on Australian roads continues to cost us billions.
In 2015 it was $16.5 billion. By 2030 it will be twice that, at $30 billion.
Making up the majority of the costs are; lost personal time, lost productivity for businesses, extra running costs, pollution, increased insurance premiums, vehicle accidents and infrastructure repair.
Over the last decade traffic congestion has been exacerbated by two factors — population and urban sprawl.
Factors which were perfectly predictable for years in advance for our politicians.
In the last decade, Melbourne added 1 million people to its population. Sydney added over 700,000.
And while the metropolitan areas of both cities have expanded to cope with this increase in residents, the development in nearby regional centres such as Bendigo, Newcastle and Toowoomba, have been extraordinary.
Australians, in an effort to afford a home, have always been willing to live on the urban fringes where the cost of housing is cheaper. The expense of travelling long distances to work is the price you pay.
But the roads from our urban fringes into the major metropolitan centres, are bottlenecks.
And they shouldn’t be.
Time to get serious about infrastructure
Urban planning is about timely development. Any cursory glance at the planning projections for the last 20 years will reveal experts were predicting these kinds of demands and issuing repeated warnings to Government.
But our political leaders have often made excuses or bad decisions, turning infrastructure development into a game. All of them, without exception, like to be seen as a Santa Claus, benevolently dolling out favours to the community and spending exponentially large amounts of our money.
But large infrastructure projects — projects designed to keep our cities moving — are not a game, politically or otherwise.
And while you can’t just suddenly build a freeway, or an extra railway, or another tram line — you could take politicians out of the equation.
Maybe the Commonwealth should set up an independent authority that has the status of the Defence Department. It could be allocated a percentage of the national income, and the authority’s singular responsibility would be to build Australian transport infrastructure, with or without state government support.
The responsibility of the Parliament will be to approve its budget, examine the major works and seek to minimise interference.
There is no doubt that modern day infrastructure development is costly, drawn-out and disruptive. But the price of dithering, of acting late, or not at all, is a price we should refuse to pay.