Recently announced fast-tracked federal funding for two major Hunter roads projects might provide a short-term economic boost.
Is more than a billion dollars of public money well spent if it does not form part of a long-term transport strategy that meets the needs of the future?
The past 12 months have shown the benefits of bringing jobs and housing closer together, urgently implementing zero carbon emissions to the atmosphere, and achieving sustainable economic development that benefits local communities.
Both the Singleton and Newcastle inner-city bypass proposals are isolated projects with no sound or justified long-term transport strategy for the region.
The benefits of both are highly questionable, and the vast infrastructure spending involved could be used much more effectively.
Singleton bypass is an interesting example of a project with no sound cost benefit analysis, and a hardly acceptable traffic needs analysis.
Traffic congestion for one or two hours a day caused substantially by commuting coal mining employees and a related service workforce, is a problem that can be solved without a bypass.
The preferred route has questionable impacts on long-term land use and amenity in Singleton.
This bypass is premised on continuing 1.7 per cent year on year traffic growth.
This is at odds with expected declines in coal mine output and employment in coming decades, stable or declining population in the Upper Hunter and inland NSW, and the efficiencies of transporting freight by rail.
Public infrastructure funding should be for long-term needs rather than short-term jobs.
Above all, there must be a demonstrable public benefit.
A regional transport initiative whose time has come is the Hunter LinkRail proposal.
With one of the most road dependent transport systems and settlement patterns of any metropolitan area in Australia, Newcastle and the Hunter Region risks being significantly economically disadvantaged in the long term unless it adopts a different approach to transport and accessibility that balances fast public transport between its urban centres.
Recent experience with COVID-19 has shown how fragile our towns and cities are in this respect.
A regional transport initiative whose time has come is the Hunter LinkRail proposal. This would join Glendale, Kurri Kurri and Maitland to create an orbital rail network linking the Lower Hunter to the rest of NSW.
Hunter LinkRail is the missing link in the Hunter's regional passenger transport system. It also fulfils grander aims for the east coast rail freight corridor.
This corridor will fit perfectly with forward looking plans for a Port of Newcastle container facility, which is looking like a post-coal jobs winner.
As well as fitting the needs for both regional passenger and freight and interstate freight, it provides a backbone from which we can plan correctly to provide housing, transport and access to our airport as well as regional centres.
We are fortunate in the Hunter that the possible corridors to develop this innovative proposal are still viable.
A whole new route would not have to be developed.
Corridors remain intact that would easily satisfy a route through the Hunter that links growth centres such as Glendale, West Wallsend, Kurri Kurri and Maitland.
The Hunter LinkRail proposal fits well with six inter-related steps that would re-shape Newcastle and the Lower Hunter fit for the 21st century.
- integrate future high speed rail with regional accessibility
- bring intercity rail up to international standards
- plan an airport rail connection
- re-route the east coast rail freight corridor - fitting in with a Newcastle Port container terminal
- plan a Hunter Metro
- locate development according to accessibility principles
- and above all, reform regional transport governance.
Infrastructure funding and jobs should focus on getting it right for the long term, rather than spending vast sums on projects that bring little or no economic benefit, apart from carbon-creating jobs.
As a community, the time is right for clearly defining the problems that need solving, and planning for solutions that work.
Think again, and back a long-term winner over short-term jobs and a quick fix for nothing.
Jan Davis is president of the Hunter Environment Lobby
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