Opinion: Now is the time to plan a useful public infrastructure project that will benefit Brisbane into the long term. Short term thinking on infrastructure planning should be weeded out and bipartisan convergence of mass transit planning from all political parties is needed.
One of the most critical infrastructure projects that we believe Brisbane needs, along with Cross River Rail and the planned Brisbane Metro is a new high frequency East-West mass rapid transit line to connect Brisbane’s burgeoning inner city growth areas, otherwise our surface streets will see overwhelming car and bus gridlock within the next decade.
The dawn of the 21st century has seen Brisbane transform the way we build our housing. Once allowed to sprawl as far as the Taylor Ranges to the West and to Moreton Bay in the East, Brisbane is continuing to build upwards and attached, infill dwellings now account for most of new greater Brisbane dwelling construction.
This new type of densified growth has notably been concentrated along a 10km East-West axis. Growth now follows an East-West path of desirability along the snaking Brisbane River.
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The East-West Mass Rapid Transit
Zoom into map to see possible route alignment.
Click on stations to see more information.
East-West mass transit explained
- A 12.8 kilometre underground driverless metro line
- x4 underground river crossings
- x15 underground stations
- Target capacity of around 40,000 customers per hour, similar to other metro systems worldwide
- Linking Queensland’s largest university to the rest of the city
- Finally providing Northshore Hamilton with access to mass transit
- Linking Brisbane’s highest density areas, most of which have no access to mass transit
Using an overlay of Brisbane Development Map data, we can summarise that around 43,400 dwellings have been recently completed, under construction, proposed, approved or mooted within a 450m radius of fifteen stations along a blue line linking the University of Queensland to Northshore Hamilton.
Using a conservative multiplier of x1.6 persons per apartment dwelling, an estimated 70,000 new residents will reside within this east-west corridor of inner Brisbane, on top of existing residents, new student residents, and new office workers.
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These figures are conservative and do not include populations of student accommodation, hotel rooms, aged care facilities or new commercial space, so this final figure is likely to be a lot higher.
New world cities need long term visions and even with Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro, Brisbane is playing catchup. The Brisbane City Council is correct to upgrade parts of the existing North-South busway into a metro line, however to avoid total gridlock and an engrained car culture of inner city areas outside of this existing Busway, we need to properly service additional high density growth areas with a dedicated high frequency underground metro line.
A similar, much longer driverless system which is currently under construction in Sydney is explained below:
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Deriving the costs of a barely mapped out system with so many potential variables is almost like looking into a crystal ball. However by analysing a whole range of proposed, under construction or recently completed metro systems in the world, we can begin to understand the costs per kilometre in order to ascertain a rough total figure for a 12.8km East-West metro for Brisbane.
The three closest systems with similar market conditions and labour costs to that of Brisbane are Sydney Metro, Singapore’s Thomson MRT Line and Singapore’s Downtown MRT Line. When averaged, these projects represent an cost of $412 million per kilometre.
Using this vague but straightforward method of comparison, we can predict that if using similar driverless metro technology and construction methods, similar to that of the Sydney and Singapore lines, a 12.8km East-West Metro connecting Brisbane’s most dense areas would cost somewhere between $4 to $6 billion (exact averaged figure is $5.2 billion).
With traditional funding methods lethargically inhibiting vital existing projects like Cross River Rail from commencing, such a project of this nature requires non-traditional, innovative sources of revenue that utilise value capture, the private sector and public money.
Value Capture is method of infrastructure revenue raising which identifies and collects an equitable portion of the increased land values caused by new infrastructure improvements. For example, new property wealth that is generated as a direct benefit of a nearby mass transit station would be tapped in order to help fund and spread increased wealth to the broader community.
A report by Aecom and Consult Australia explains that value capture is not a new tax. It allocates the uplift in benefits from public investments in ways that do not affect current or future tax rates.
The report highly recommends the use of value capturing mechanisms for new Australian infrastructure. First used in North America in the 1960’s, Australia has never really used this type of funding method, instead relying on higher taxes, public handouts and new levies.
International experience demonstrates that well planned public transport can increase land values by up to 50% and can contribute substantial portions of the overall cost of new infrastructure.
The Denver Union Station redevelopment captured $135 million of its $446 million cost (roughly 30%) of the total capital cost through value capture.
Another example of value capture, this one an extreme case is the MTR in Hong Kong, which is 100% funded by property development gains. MTR Corporation acquires land for new stations and development sites around stations are then leased at higher values with new mass transit infrastructure in place. Although Brisbane has no where near the density and population levels of Hong Kong, our densifying inner city areas most certainly can allow a good enough percentage of capital costs to come from the value capture method.
PPP (Public Private Partnership).
While PPP ventures of large scale infrastructure projects in Queensland have had a rocky and controversial past due to the collapse of two roadway consortiums in Brisbane, Pubic Private Partnerships of public transport infrastructure overall has been quite successful, with Goldlinq Consortium being a good example of this success.
In it’s first year of operation, the 13km Gold Coast Rapid Transit exceeded it’s original 5.70 million forecast to reach 6.18 million trips while boosting the city’s public transport patronage by 25%. Goldlinq is now part of a 7.3km expansion project which will connect the light rail system to heavy rail.
An East-West line, taking people where they want to go will equally be as successful and could attract domestic and international corporations like Singapore’s successful MRT corporation to invest in such a line.
Public Bond Raising
Government issued bonds for infrastructure investment is nothing new and has been used to build public infrastructure projects throughout the world.
The governing authority in charge of establishing a hypothetical investment vehicle for East-West Rapid Transit could in essence create an easier method for the public to invest in fixed rate government bonds.
Through the use of technology which is largely available to everyone such as a smart phone application, everyday people could be enticed to invest into government treasury bonds which are a predictable, long-term source of income rather than lower interest term deposit accounts. Additionally, these infrastructure bonds could be issued as tax-exempt bonds which would make them a highly attractive investment for a lot of people.
It starts with an idea
Brisbane is at a crossroad. We are fast approaching a critical mass of population within our inner city areas to sustain a more serious long term form of mass transit. With the inevitable population growth in areas mentioned earlier, in 10-15 years time politicians will be calling for a project of this nature. So why wait for when we actually need it to start planning it?
Long term infrastructure should not be seen as a ‘distraction’ to current projects like Cross River Rail or Brisbane Metro, but more of a sustainable investment and careful way of planning for the needs of tomorrow so that one day we won’t be scrambling at the 11th hour to cure gridlock problems and pay higher amounts for shorter construction periods.
If a hypothetical project like an East-West Mass Rapid Transit system was ever contemplated, it should utilise innovative but calculated methods of funding, so that it doesn’t cost the world. More importantly however, such a system should absorb good ideas from successful projects across the globe.
As for the future, your task is not to forsee it, but to enable it.
– Antoine de Saint Exupery, poet and pilot (1900-1944)