Coalition backdown on roads promise

TONY ABBOTT'S transport spokesman has cast doubt on his promise that Coalition funding of $4 billion for big projects will put cranes over Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane within a year of its election.

Mr Abbott says he wants to be a prime minister ''who revels in seeing cranes over our cities, who revels in seeing bulldozers at work'' and has pledged that three big projects, including the WestConnex road in Sydney and the east-west road link in Melbourne, would be ''under way within 12 months of a change of government''.

But in an interview with Fairfax Media, the Coalition transport spokesman, Warren Truss, conceded a start date for the projects could be further away.

''The project in Melbourne .. will require considerable time associated with planning and various approvals to get under way - the Sydney one as well. It is part of a bigger project now, and so there will be time … I think it will take at least a couple of years and maybe longer for those two to start construction,'' he said.

Mr Abbott has promised $1.5 billion to the WestConnex motorway, $1.5 billion to the east-west link and $1 billion to the Gateway extension road in Brisbane.

The O'Farrell government has committed $1.8 billion to the WestConnex road, expected to cost $10 billion to $15 billion.

But it is uncertain where the rest of the funding will be found, even if a large proportion comes from tolls on the motorway, a 33-kilometre road between Auburn in Sydney's west that will connect to the airport and the M5 motorway in the south west. The government has set up a project office to come up with a detailed case for WestConnex by the middle of next year. It has said construction would start before the state election in March 2015.

Given Australia's fairly poor record in toll road modelling and the fact that the companies behind projects such as the cross-city and Lane Cove tunnels in Sydney and the Clem7 tunnel in Brisbane have ended up in administration, Mr Truss said the Coalition was looking for innovative ways a Coalition government could attract private investment for the projects.

''I've been approached with lots of ideas about how the government could share the investment risk on these projects,'' he said.

''I am not attracted to proposals where the government takes all the risk and the private sector gets all the profit. But risk sharing is something I am prepared to look at.

''We will have to find ways to leverage private-sector funding - particularly the Sydney and Melbourne projects are likely to require a mix of Commonwealth, state and private funding.

''Investors say since toll finance projects haven't gone so well recently, they want an arrangement where the government takes some risk if toll revenue turns out to be less …

''Once a patronage estimate has been established there might be a formula under which a certain percentage of risk and profit is shared with the government, with the percentage getting bigger or smaller depending on the size of the divergence … I haven't said yes or no to that yet but I am looking at it,'' Mr Truss said.

The story Coalition backdown on roads promise first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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