Toll road operator Transurban will fund the Inner City Bypass upgrade and take over ongoing maintenance and operation of the road in return for increased tolls on existing Brisbane toll roads.
Tuesday’s announcement, made at the Legacy Way control centre at Bowen Hills, would see heavy vehicle tolls increase on the Clem7, Legacy Way and Go Between Bridge toll roads.
Regular motorists using the Legacy Way tunnel would also be slugged with an increase of about 7 per cent, bringing it to the maximum toll allowable.
The $60 million ICB upgrade would see a widening to four lanes in each direction between Legacy Way and the RNA tunnel, new on- and off-ramps onto the ICB, bus priority measures at the Herston Road exit and a new westbound on-ramp from Bowen Bridge Road and the Inner Northern Busway.
Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the agreement would save ratepayers more than $54 million, meaning the ICB upgrade would be delivered with just $3-4 million from the council’s budget.
The agreement between Brisbane City Council and Transurban, subject to state government approval, means heavy vehicle tolls for the Clem7 and Go Between Bridge will increase from 2.65 times the car tolls to three times the car tolls from July 1 next year.
Legacy Way would follow suit on July 1, 2020, at the same time as car tolls for tunnel users also increased.
Transurban Queensland general manager Wes Ballantine said the agreement, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, would not see a toll introduced to the ICB.
Mr Ballantine said Legacy Way regular tolls would increase “circa 7 per cent” in 2020, from $4.94 to $5.31, in 2017 terms.
At a time when Brisbane’s TransApex network of toll roads were performing well below expectation, Mr Ballantine defended the price hikes for motorists.
“I think with almost 500,000 trips a day on Brisbane’s toll roads, Brisbane would look a lot and feel a lot different to the negative if these toll roads didn’t exist,” he said.
“Rather than the toll price increase, it’s actually the improvement in the ICB which will make a difference here and, in close conversation with the council, we believe that the price increases here are commensurate.
“Certainly, the value improvement is way beyond the (toll) price increase we’re announcing here today.”
Although Transurban would take over the operation and maintenance of the ICB under the agreement, Mr Ballantine said there would be no toll introduced to the road that linked Hale Street and Kingsford Smith Drive.
“Our key focus is how can we make the network work better, whether they are our roads or not,” he said.
“The council was open to that conversation and, with our tunnels at each end of this road and our workers on the road every day, we were in the best position to provide the most efficient operations of this road.”
Cr Quirk said the precedent of such an arrangement was set with the Logan Enhancement Project, a market-led proposal by Transurban to upgrade parts of the Logan and Gateway motorways.
“(State approval) has been sought, but we’ve only reached a point of agreement now with Transurban, so we’re in a position now where we can go to them with an agreement and we can formally ask for that approval.”
Cr Quirk said the freight industry had been consulted ahead of the announcement.
“It comes back to a value proposition – will it be value for money in terms of the dollars paid for the time saved?” he said.
“When you’re dealing with large vehicles like this and the large cost of fuel and maintenance associated with those vehicles, time saving can be a very significant cost advantage.”
Cr Quirk said Transurban approached the council after the ICB upgrade announcement was made last year.
When asked whether funding an upgrade to an untolled road would be a bitter pill for toll road users to swallow, Cr Quirk said such financial arrangements needed to be considered.
“It’s always an issue of revenue and where it comes from to keep up with infrastructure,” he said.
“You have a number of choices. You can continue to increase rates around that. There are a number of ways you can go about it.
“The one thing I do know is that the people of Brisbane will want me to keep up with the infrastructure build.
“They’ll want to make sure that, as our city and region grows, that we continue to invest.”
The Lord Mayor said construction savings, along with an estimated $1 million a year in maintenance cost savings, would be reinvested into other Brisbane infrastructure.
“Where we anticipated that this would be an $80 million project, the total cost will come down to about $3-4 million,” Cr Quirk said.
“There’s always a list of infrastructure jobs to be undertaken and that always makes up part of our budget considerations each year.”
Mr Ballantine said the three-time multiple toll for heavy vehicles was consistent with toll roads in Sydney and Melbourne.
“It’s very in line with the market,” he said.
The seeds of the agreement were sewn last June, when Mr Ballantine indicated Transurban was in early discussions with the council.