We’ll be using way more public transport and road-based travel, travelling will take longer and infrastructure emissions are set to grow by 2031, a new report has found.

Infrastructure Australia’s Australian Infrastructure Audit released on Friday found infrastructure-related emissions including energy and transport accounted for half of Australia’s total greenhouse gas inventory. It said sustainable environmental outcomes and adapting to climate change was a core responsibility of infrastructure planners, owners and operators

Property sector and industry bodies welcomed the audit’s findings, which will be used to inform a 15-year Infrastructure Plan following a period of community consultation.

The report said that energy contributed 33 per cent of emissions in infrastructure and transport 17 per cent.

It found that transport emissions had grown by 51 per cent since 1989–90, faster than any other sector. Emissions from vehicles in Sydney will increase by almost 50 per cent over the period 2011 to 2031 under a “do nothing” scenario, it said, citing the 2012 NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan.

However, a “do nothing” approach was not the appropriate response, AI said.

It made strong recommendations for increased investment in public transport, integrated land-use planning that promotes affordable housing near transport and employment, and a shift to a low-emissions economy to reduce the impacts of climate change.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be a key consideration when infrastructure plans, construction methods and operational frameworks are being determined,” the report said.

Planning for increased natural disaster impacts due to climate change was also recommended.

“Enhancing the resilience of assets will become more important for infrastructure providers as extreme weather events become increasingly likely to threaten certain assets.

“Between 2000 and 2012, insured losses from natural disasters reached $16.1 billion, an average of over $1.2 billion per year. These events can cause immediate and significant damage to infrastructure assets, lowering productivity and output. The damage to public infrastructure from the 2011 Queensland floods alone was estimated at $5-6 billion.”

The report said that due to projected population growth in our major cities and growth in the Australian economy, without investment in new transport capacity and/or means of managing demand, car travel times were expected to increase by at least 20 per cent in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra.

“In some cases, travel times could more than double between 2011 and 2031,” the report said.

“The passenger transport task (both road and public transport) across our six largest capital cities is projected to increase by 58 per cent, from 622 million kilometres a day in 2011 to 982 million km per day in 2031. Both public transport and road infrastructure will need to be expanded to meet this growth in demand. While the use of public transport has been increasing since 2004, currently only one in six Australians travel to work by public transport.

“Demand on many key urban road and rail corridors is projected to significantly exceed current capacity by 2031. The importance of managing urban transport is underlined by the fact that in 2011, the cost of delays on roads in the six largest capital cities was $13.7 billion.

“This figure is projected to grow by around 290 per cent to $53.3 billion in 2031, in the absence of appropriate strategies including integrating land use and transport planning, new road construction, additional public transport investment and the introduction of demand management measures.”

The audit’s modelling of road capacity and the costs of delay by Vietch Lister Consulting and ACIL Allen used only those roads currently built and projects for which funding had been guaranteed.

Under this scenario, several key commuter routes in the major cities were identified as having a high economic cost by 2031 in terms of traffic delays caused by congestion.

Among the top 30 routes with high projected delay costs were Sydney’s Gore Hill/Warringah Freeways/Sydney Harbour Bridge/Eastern Distributor route; Chatswood to Narraweena via Warringah Rd; King Georges Rd Corridor on the Princes Hwy (M4); Pennant Hills Rd – Parramatta to Hornsby; Parramatta Rd (A31) City West Link Corridor Sydney – Ashfield; Sutherland – Ryde/Parramatta Corridor (A6); Victoria Road (A40) corridor; Homebush Bay to Mona Vale corridor (A3); and Airport to CBD.

In Melbourne, the Hume Freeway corridor; Western/Metropolitan Ring Road; Tullamarine Freeway (Airport) corridor were among the top 30 routes where delays would have significant economic impact; and in the Brisbane and Gold Coast area, the problematic routes are predicted to be the Ipswich Motorway; Ipswich to Wacol; and the Pacific Motorway Beenleigh to Helensvale.

In terms of public transport’s ability to reduce this congestion level, the audit pointed out that buses and light rail or trams were also subject to delays caused by congestion. Further, it found that overall, there was insufficient planning and financial commitment to meet future public transport demand, with a predicted 55 per cent increase in demand in Sydney, 121 per cent increase in Melbourne and an average of 89 per cent increase across all capital cities.

“Unless peak period passenger loads are managed and capacity is increased, commuters in all capital cities will see more services experiencing ‘crush loadings’, where peak demand exceeds capacity,” the report said.

The importance of integrating land-use planning with infrastructure planning, particularly in terms of transport, was highlighted.

“Integrated infrastructure and land-use planning is essential if there is to be strategic decision-making at all levels of government. Whilst there have been improvements in this area, progress has been slow in securing the many benefits that will be gained from an integrated approach to managing infrastructure challenges.”

The ageing of our population was also highlighted as a factor that would influence infrastructure planning.

“It is likely to result in more households in retirement and on fixed incomes, which has implications for capacity to pay at a time of slowing growth in the revenue base for government services. It may also lead to an increasing demand for public transport, if older Australians give up their driving licences.

“We will need to consider how to ensure access to public transport, particularly for those who do not live near major transport hubs and face limited mobility. There is also a challenge in helping older people understand and use information available via modern communications, including transport information that will help people move around.”

Increasing residential density and developing housing options through urban infill projects was suggested as another part of the integrated approach.

“Urban consolidation can offer lower costs and lower environmental impacts than urban fringe development. A 2010 study by the Centre for International Economics found that the resource costs of providing infrastructure associated with urban infill development are seven to 12 per cent lower than on the urban fringes.

“Subsequent work has found that different patterns of infill development in Sydney (focusing on centres versus dispersed infill development) could yield different economic costs and benefits. Concentrating development around key centres was found to offer higher net benefits than other patterns of infill development.”

The energy sector was also examined, with the report pointing out that investment in low-emissions renewable energy capacity was being undermined by policy uncertainty. It also found that energy was one of the few sectors where significant demand growth was not predicted. This is due to energy efficiency initiatives and technologies, and the growing penetration of on-site generation such as rooftop solar photovoltaics.

IA said there were several regulatory issues in the energy sector that required attention, including tariff reform to reduce peak period demand, and more efficient and reliable provision of services to regional and remote communities.

Some other key points:

  • Australia’s population is expected to grow from 22.3 million in 2011 to 30.5 million in 2031. The national population has already increased by more than one million people since 2011
  • Our four largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – are projected to grow by 5.8 million (or around 45%) from 12.8 million in 2011 to 18.6 million in 2031. Areas around these cities – the Hunter, Illawarra, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Geelong regions – are expected to grow from 2 million in 2011 to over 2.5 million in 2031. These four extended metropolitan areas will account for over two thirds of Australia’s population in 2031.
  • In percentage terms, Hobart and Adelaide are projected to grow the slowest of the capital cities. Darwin and Canberra are expected to grow more quickly, although off a somewhat smaller base population in 2011 compared to the larger capitals. On the whole, the challenge of meeting the infrastructure needs of those cities is likely to be less significant than for the four larger cities.
  • Fostering growth in the smaller capital cities and regional centres could ease the pressure on our larger cities. Based on current trends, outside the capitals and surrounding regions, population is projected to grow by 22 per cent, from 5.6 million in 2011 to 6.8 million in 2031.
  • The Australian economy is projected to grow by 84 per cent, from $1.4 trillion in 2011 to $2.6 trillion in 2031, a growth rate of 3.1 per cent per year. This growth in our population and economy will make us richer as a country. However, it will also create unprecedented infrastructure challenges.
  • Nationwide population increases and ongoing prosperity will be the big drivers of an increasing need for road space, public transport capacity, freight capacity and improved gateways for trade.
  • Reforms are required across urban and regional water markets to promote competitive pricing, improve economic and environmental regulation, and support further private involvement in the sector.
  • Levels of service delivery in telecommunications infrastructure outside of major cities must be improved to ensure the productivity benefits of technological improvements are shared by all Australians.

Read the audit papers and see details on how to make a submission during the consultation period.

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