Sandy Zubrinich, Chair, Sunshine Coast Business Council
For the best part of a decade the Sunshine Coast Business Council (SCBC) has been calling for an integrated regional transport strategy. One that sets the direction for the coming decades and provides the region with modern and appropriate modes of transport to service the growing population and changing lifestyle. It needs to provide a funding pathway that not only covers costing options but subsequent government funding splits that can be relied upon and survive changing governments.
In September 2019, SCBC asked Lambert & Rehbein (a reputable multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy) to establish the status of existing funding arrangements for Sunshine Coast regional transport infrastructure. This was presented at the SCBC annual Combined Government & Business Forum in October 2019. The review found:
- The clearest document was the Sunshine Coast Council Integrated Transport Strategy which was considered a good starting point to understand what the region’s transport needs are and how the region is progressing.
- There are 26 Priority Transport Projects of which three are currently being delivered, three are in design stage and 20 had no funding commitments.
- The current significant investment in road infrastructure is limited to a couple of projects that in some respects are simply playing “catch up”.
- Local investment is occurring by Council through the Local Government Infrastructure Plan (LGIP) and other sources, however these projects won’t shape the region.
- Although there is over a billion dollars of works underway, or soon to be started, on local stretches of the Bruce Highway there is a lack of investment on the Sunshine Coast in connecting major highways and local roads.
- Funding from Federal Government has significantly increased over recent years, especially on the Bruce Highway, but State Government funding is lagging.
- Extensive planning and investigations are being undertaken but are not currently translating to projects on the ground.
- There are a number of headline transport projects identified, such as the Mass Transit Project and North Coast Connect, which will underpin investment in the region and can be seen as catalytic infrastructure. However until these types of projects are delivered, the transport system will struggle to keep pace with growth.
An Interim Findings Report for the Sunshine Coast Mass Transit Project was presented to Sunshine Coast Council at the January 2020 Council meeting. Whilst the interim report identifies the mass transit options under consideration it does not address connectivity with other networks and major population and employment centres such as Nambour, Sippy Downs, Palmview and Caloundra West.
As the final business case is not expected until towards the end of 2021, the questions inspired by the interim report around the assessment of land use, social and environmental impacts, benefits and costs will no doubt be the source of discussion between council, government and the community along the way. We hope the final report will provide some insight as to how the Mass Transport Project integrates with other networks to service the broader community and employment nodes.
Meanwhile, we understand the draft business case for North Coast Connect has recently been completed and currently sits with the National Fast Rail Agency before it goes to the Government. We look forward to seeing what comes as a result of that business case.
SCBC invited the Department of Main Roads to present the status of the SC Regional Transport Strategy in 2017 and 2018. In 2017 the State Department provided an overview of its approach, method and list of projects in focus for the Regional Transport Plan and for the Southern Sunshine Coast Public Transport Strategy. The Department indicated Stage 1 would be completed by December 2017.
Stage 2 was to be completed by end FY 2018/19 but when the Department of Main Roads was asked to present at the 2018 SCBC Combined Government & Business Forum they declined on the basis that they were waiting on the two businesses cases — Mass Transit and North Coast Connect — before they could proceed with the Southern Sunshine Coast Public Transport Strategy.
On this basis, if the Mass Transit final business case is not scheduled to be completed before the end of 2021 we can therefore expect a significant delay in the release of the Southern Sunshine Coast Public Transport Strategy. But, the more important question may be — how can the Mass Transit business case which is slated for the end of 2021 possibly be considered for the first iteration of the SEQ City Deal which may be completed as early as mid-2020?