Jackson Gothe-Snape The Advertiser
THE “food bowl” of Northern Adelaide has been backed by the country’s independent infrastructure adviser, following the release of a much-anticipated 15-year plan into the country’s most pressing construction priorities.
The support in the Infrastructure Australia report for the centrepiece of the Northern Adelaide’s Irrigation Scheme — an upgraded Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant — means that plan to develop the agricultural land between Gawler and Port Wakefield can now move forward.
But the going may be slow, after Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison warned the country’s dire budget situation meant states could not expect handouts.
The Infrastructure Australia report identified nine infrastructure priorities for the state, all of which had been nominated by the South Australian Government.
State Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan declared the release of the plan “great news for South Australia”.
The most prominent projects are familiar — an expanded tram network, an upgraded Gawler line and a streamlined North-South road corridor.
Six of the priorities address regional needs, including the Bolivar Plant upgrade.
“The idea behind that project is to secure a greater amount of water which can be used to irrigate through to production areas to the north of Adelaide,” Mr Mullighan said.
State Opposition infrastructure spokesman David Pisoni said his party agreed with the “general gist of the timeline of the projects” including making the Gawler train line upgrade a priority.
He also said he was “attracted” to the development of a port on the Eyre Peninsula to help transport mining ore.
SA Property Council Executive Director Daniel Gannon described the plan as a “wake-up call to South Australia’s policy makers” and called for a “pipeline” of projects.
Andrew McKenna, Senior Policy Advisor from Business SA, believes the northern Adelaide food bowl, alongside the Strzelecki Track upgrade, are the most important projects for the state’s economy.
“While we recognise that project is still in the development phase, it will provide significant economic benefits and employment and leverage off projects like the Northern Connector.”
Although the project has been endorsed by Infrastructure Australia, the Federal Government’s budget deficit means the State Government cannot expect an immediate funding contribution.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison reiterated his belief that his Government would need cut spending and states would have to manage their own affairs without Commonwealth money.
“I don’t think states are branch offices of the Commonwealth — I think they are sovereign governments,’’ he said at a speech in Canberra yesterday.
Federal Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher said his Government would use “a more consistent evaluation of wider economic benefits and a more rigorous and detailed assessment framework” to determine which projects it funds.
The plan also recommends for population growth in smaller cities like Adelaide to increase, and a review into the merits of funding infrastructure with higher charges for users of roads.
1. Gawler Line rail upgrade
Near-term problem (within five years)
The upgrade and electrification
of the Gawler rail line, including installation of a new signalling system, was earmarked as South Australia’s only high-priority project by Infrastructure Australia.
The current peak-hour Gawler line load reaches 75 per cent along the busiest sections and network capacity is expected to be reached in as little as five years.
Growth in passenger numbers is driven by the population boom in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, including Gawler-Two Wells, Playford and Salisbury. An extra 116,000 residents are expected to move in over the next 15 years.
The diesel-powered train fleet and the signalling system on the line are already reaching the end of their reliable service life.
2. AdeLINK Tram Network
Medium-term problem (within 10 years)
A recent infrastructure audit found that the performance of urban roads and public transport is a key challenge for South Australia.
This tram upgrade would involve a massive expansion of the network in Adelaide, creating a loop around the city and lines through the inner suburbs north, south, east and west of the CBD.
A proposed link to Port Adelaide would also mean the conversion of existing diesel heavy rail to a modern electric light rail service.
In Adelaide, the proportion of passengers using public transport for journeys to work is just over 8 per cent, whereas in Melbourne and Brisbane it is 11.5 per cent, and in Sydney it is 17.6 per cent.
3. Remaining sections of Adelaide north-south corridor
This project would upgrade the remaining unfunded sections
of the north-south corridor following the recently announced improvements to the Northern Connector and South Rd.
It would involve 15km of new motorway along the existing corridor, creating a 78km transport spine across the city.
According to the infrastructure audit, sections of the north-south corridor that have not been upgraded experience slow travel times and reduced travel time reliability.
South Rd alone is expected to have delay cost of $164 million in 2031 — that is, it will cost an extra $164 million to fix the problem unless investment is made soon.
3. Strzelecki Track sealing and mobile coverage
The Strzelecki Track has been identified as a short-term priority by Infrastructure Australia – and not just the road.
This project would upgrade and seal 426km of the currently unsealed Strzelecki Track between Lyndhurst and Innamincka, and 26km of the Nappa Merrie Access Rd, providing a sealed connection between South Australia and Queensland.
The road is currently unsuitable for heavy vehicles, and suffers from potholes, corrugation and a lack of drainage. But the project also proposes improved mobile phone coverage along the route, which is important to the expanding oil and gas industry.
4. South Australian regional port development
Despite reports of job losses, the SA mining and resources sector continues to grow.
The state now has 10 fully operating mines, plus four approved or under construction, as well as more than 20 projects at various planning stages.
The lack of a clear transport path, including high-capacity deep ports, can be a hurdle for investment in mining, but at the same time attracting capital for new port projects without financial and contractual commitments from miners is difficult.
Infrastructure Australia has earmarked three sites for potential port development: the existing Whyalla Port, the planned Cape Hardy Port on eastern Eyre Peninsula, or the planned Myponie Point export facility on the northern Yorke Peninsula.
5. Sturt Highway capacity enhancement, including Truro bypass
“High-productivity vehicles” – large trucks — can carry 30 per cent more freight per vehicle, meaning fewer vehicles are needed to move the same amount of freight.
Freight growth on the Sturt is expected to increase by almost 2 per cent every year.
This initiative proposes an upgrade of the Sturt Highway through the Truro Hills, including a bypass of the town of Truro.
It would improve safety and will mean high-productivity vehicles can use the highway.
7. Gawler Craton rail access
The Gawler Craton is a region northwest of the Eyre Peninsula with extensive copper, gold, silver and iron ore deposits.
The remoteness of the mineral deposits has always proved a hurdle for exploration and development.
This initiative proposes that a third party builds, owns and operates a 350km railway in the Gawler Craton area, linking to the existing interstate rail network as well as other potential mining projects in future.
Development of this rail line could provide a connection to the Prominent Hill, Olympic Dam and Carrapateena mines, and provide access to other potential reserves.
8. Melbourne–Adelaide–Perth rail upgrade
Longer-term problem (within 15 years)
The interstate rail freight network in South Australia handles 80 per cent of the land-based east-west intercapital freight market.
It is essential for regional mineral and agricultural producers in South Australia.
Within 15 years the track will be “capacity constrained”, while some sections of the current track are already close to needing replacement or impose speed and axle-load restrictions.
This project proposes upgrades on the Port Augusta to Tarcoola section of the network, while upgrades to the remaining parts of the track are being considered by a national freight strategy.
9. Northern Adelaide Plains water infrastructure
This proposal would expand and upgrade the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant to improve the way it treats and disposes of waste water to comply with new environmental standards.
It would also make an additional 20 GL of recycled water available for high value agricultural production in the farming regions north of Adelaide.
Groundwater is the major natural resource supporting the existing irrigation area but this is over-allocated.
Without this extra water, there are limited opportunities to expand the regional agricultural economy.