My Philosophy on Motorways

I thought I should perhaps share my philosophy on road transport. A word of warning: the way I blend environmentalism and a belief in market forces is fairly rare. So I expect plenty of people on both the political left and the political right to object.

Firstly, while I try to minimise my own driving, even I can't eliminate it completely. And I have had it relatively easy, as my wife didn't work from the birth of my second child until after my fourth and last child entered high school. Other families where both parents work have complicated routines and public transport simply does not work for them.

I have also met a number of people over the years who figure as they have a car anyway, it is cheaper to drive than catch public transport. Through appropriate price signals, we could and should induce those people to drive less.

So, while we definitely need good public transport, bike paths and walking tracks, we also need to allow for cars. For me it all about minimising the damage. Here comes my road transport utopia.

My Proposed Utopia

Put tolls on regular roads and not just motorways

For historical reasons, a lot of arterial roads go right through the middle of suburbs. Cars going along such roads cause more impact on walkers, cyclists and residents in terms of noise, pollution, risk of accidents, etc than a cars going along motorways, especially motorways in tunnels. Therefore, we don't get the best outcome if we put tolls on motorways but not on suburban roads. Also, if we spread the toll burden over all roads, the tolls don't have to be as high.

I understand the reason for the current arrangements. It's so as to avoid creating any losers. But I don't think it's a good enough reason.

Congestion pricing

Remember how we used to read and hear that in the old Eastern Block people used to spend hours in queues for food and other groceries? And it was because there weren't enough goods being produced relative to the amount of money people were getting paid and the prices of those goods were fixed and low. And we all thought that was a really stupid system. We do road usage pricing essentially like the old Eastern Block countries priced groceries. There are cities and countries which price road usage according to congestion and we should, too.

One advantage of congestion pricing is also that we will have solid data on what road users are willing to pay. Then we only build the motorways that road users are willing to pay for. And by the time a new motorway is built, we will have already raised part of the money to pay for it. Obviously, that requires that tolls on government-owned roads don't go into general revenue but are reserved for improving traffic throughput.

Of course, when we fix congestion in an area by building a new motorway, we need to keep tolling the roads in the area, even though the congestion is gone, so that we can pay for the motorway.

Put motorways into tunnels

Motorways on the surface cut suburbs in half and use up land that could be used for green corridors. New motorways should be in tunnels.

Plentiful, low-impact interchanges

Interchanges are where traffic from regular roads enters and exits motorways. This is the part that WestConnex got badly wrong. There are too few interchanges in the design and the interchanges that are getting built then have to be massive to accommodate all that traffic. And, of course, the local road system needs to change to be able to cope, so the wide roads become wider and lose their trees and the narrow roads lose their houses on one side. The worst example of that is the St Peters interchange. One has to visit the site to fully appreciate the scale and devastation.

Having more interchanges does not just dilute the impact of the interchanges. It also reduces the amount of driving that people have to do between the interchanges and their journey endpoints.

Ideally, interchanges should be with existing arterial roads and implemented as discreet ramps up and down. Where roads are narrow, such as Rocky Point Road in Kogarah, the interchange can be spread out, so that the ramps are not parallel but sequenced along the surface road.

We should definitely not have interchanges with above-ground fly-overs.

Ensure good air quality

I am going to break this topic up into two parts:

  1. What kind of air quality targets should we be happy with.
  2. How to go about meeting those targets.

Air quality targets are set at the national level and propagated down to the operating conditions for particular roads. I cover this in more detail on my site on the New M5 Air Quality Community Consultative Committee. However, I am not in a position to tell you whether those targets are reasonable. So I am going to focus on meeting air quality targets.

I believe that we need to focus on outcomes rather than demand particular measures. There are a whole range of possible measures which can improve air quality outcomes. Here are some:

It may not be necessary to have all of the above measures in place. I personally favour the first two.

The way air quality enforcement currently operates has some problems. I cover this in more detail on my site on the New M5 Air Quality Community Consultative Committee.