So the overheated economy has come off the boil. In fact, it’s probably boiled over and put out the gas.

That will take a lot of pressure off Australia’s infrastructure. The transport system in particular has been creaking at the seams lately under incredible patronage growth, and there has been a huge rush to ‘do something’ about it. Sydney has invented and dropped more metro schemes than you can shake a stick at. Melbourne has the Eddington ‘plan’. Brisbane has 14 billion dollars’ worth of rail tunnels on the agenda. You get the picture.

In my mind the economic downturn, combined with lower petrol prices, now gives us the opportunity to take a breath and start to plan properly again for the future. We can start to ask some serious questions: how much growth are we really likely to see over the coming decade? where will it be? where do we want it to be? what form will it take?

Last time there was a serious economic downturn in Victoria (in the early 90s following the collapse of Pyramid and Tricontinental), Melbourne got remade. It was changed from a run-down manufacturing city to a city of culture, entertainment and shopping. Unfortunately at the same time the road lobby managed to change the city into a freeway city, with hundreds of kilometres of freeway construction undertaken.

Maybe this time we’ll be able to take the time to think and do it right. So that next time there’s a boom we won’t be caught out again.

The Freeway south from Perth (the “Kwinana Freeway”) currently ends somewhere south-east of Kwinana and north-east of Baldivis. This freeway is part of the highway that runs from Perth south to the boom areas of the WA South West (Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River etc.) , gets very congested at peak times and is going to be extended in the near future (the “Peel Deviation”).

Hugging the freeway all the way down are a number of current and potential urban development areas, including Baldivis, Amarillo and Ravenswood. Obviously, this makes them prime contenders for ‘car dependent’ suburbs as it will be quick to drive and PT will have a hard time competing (the new Mandurah rail line is too far west of these suburbs).

Here is my ‘heretical’ idea. It is a given that the freeway will be extended, but how about it be built as a genuine long distance highway? In other words, it should be designed in such a way that it bypasses the urban areas without interchanges. The people of Baldivis and Amarillo would have access to much the same road network as at present (ie be no worse off) but public transport would be given a big fillip by continuing to be time competitive. It would have to be carefully designed so that interchanges could not be retrofitted at some time in the future.

This would require some work to sell, but nothing a good politician shouln’t be able to handle!