OP ED: The way we justify investments in road projects like WestConnex doesn’t add up

Written by Chris Standen for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"The approach used in Australia for assessing the "economic benefits" of urban  transport projects was devised by highway agencies in the 1960s to justify  the massive cost of urban motorways. This has given us the urban sprawl,  car-dependence and high transport costs with which we are encumbered  today.

"The main failure of this approach is that it places significant value on  hypothetical travel time savings. In NSW, it is normally assumed travellers  would value saving one hour of travel time at $15 to $48. For WestConnex,  the estimate has been inflated to $21 to $70. This results in a total travel  time saving benefit valued at $13 billion, allowing the government to claim a  positive benefit-cost ratio. However, in the case of personal travel, this is  purely a social benefit that will not help the national economy. Rather,  economists argue it will increase gross national happiness by giving some of us  more leisure time.

"Or will it? The average daily travel time in Sydney has been stable at about  80 minutes a person for decades, while the average trip distance has increased  substantially. In this time, billions have been spent on tollways. We're  spending more than ever on tolls, yet have not gained one minute of leisure  time. The higher speed of tollways has simply encouraged us to move further from  work, drive more, and make longer trips than before, for example, visiting  shopping malls instead of local shops. It has also encouraged freight to shift  from rail to urban roads.

Read the full Op Ed here.

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