Work continues as governments look to infrastructure to pull economies out of COVID fire
The message has been loud and clear from Federal, state and territory governments over the past two weeks – infrastructure delivery is essential and will drive our recovery from the COVID crisis.
The latest affirmation came yesterday from Queensland Infrastructure Minister Cameron Dick, who said it was ‘full steam ahead’ for the Queensland Government’s program.
“Commencing from 1 April 2020, over the next six months more than 130 government projects are on track to commence construction, valued in excess of $3.8 billion,” the Minister said.
The Federal and Queensland governments have also reached an agreement this week to start work sooner on 22 jointly-funded regional roads projects worth $185 million. The projects are being delivered on corridors identified under the Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI) initiative.
Similar messages have come out of Victoria, where the Government says it is working closely with its Big Build workforce, construction partners and unions to ensure works on vital road and rail projects can continue safely.
“Just as we’re facing an unprecedented health challenge, we’re facing an unprecedented economic challenge too. Our Big Build will be vital as we recover after the pandemic has passed,”Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said.
Last week Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said construction was key to navigating Australia out of the pandemic while maintaining jobs and economic growth.
“Almost 110,000 people are employed in heavy and civil engineering construction in Australia and if you include the transport, postal and warehousing sector that amounts to more than seven per cent of GDP and accounts for around eight per cent of employment,” Mr McCormack said.
“Designing and constructing infrastructure is vital to Australia’s immediate and long-term future and we are committed to ensuring our record $100 billion pipeline stays on track during this time.”
Also last week NSW Transport and Roads Minister Andrew Constance said critical construction and maintenance work across NSW roads and transport networks were being ramped up to keep people in jobs during COVID-19, and protect the livelihoods of more than 130,000 people directly and indirectly employed by Transport for NSW.
He added that transport infrastructure projects would also be key in rebuilding the State’s economy after the pandemic.
“The NSW Government is pushing ahead with delivering $57.5 billion worth of transport infrastructure across the next four years, so it’s essential to keep moving during a time like this,” Mr Constance said.
“Crews are already taking advantage of the reduced number of cars on our roads to fast-track projects.”
Mr Constance said the freight network has been incredibly busy in the past few weeks, delivering supplies and materials to hundreds of locations.
“People are relying on us to keep road and rail routes open so we can get food to supermarkets and important medical supplies to hospitals and medical centres across the state,” Mr Constance said.
Infrastructure NSW has posted a Work, Health and Safety Commitment Statement from the construction industry on COVID-19. The Statement has been formally endorsed by a number of industry groups including Roads Australia.
Earlier this week the WA Government announced a new streamlined process for transport construction contracts worth up to $20 million, along with the expediting of more than $140 million of road and maritime projects for tier 2 and 3 contractors (see separate story).
In the ACT, Chief Minister Andrew Barr says work has started on a number of new fast-tracked infrastructure and maintenance projects on significant Canberra venues as part of the ACT Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WA contracting reforms and fast-tracked pipeline will pay long-term dividends
The WA Government’s transport construction contract reforms - coupled with the fast-tracking of $140 million in road and maritime projects - will not only help small to mid-sized contractors survive the COVID crisis, but is also an investment in the industry’s long-term future.
Premier Mark McGowan yesterday announced the establishment of a State-wide Construction Panel to expedite delivery of projects across WA, armed with new process to support small to mid-sized contractors during COVID-19 emergency. More than $140 million of road and maritime projects will be expedited under the panel, including vital road safety upgrades across the State..
Roads Australia President Michael Bushby said the decision would have far reaching benefits for WA because it encouraged smaller contractors to develop their skills and capacity on projects commensurate with their size and balance sheet.
“The big names in Australian construction, like John Holland and CPB Contractors, all started out as small players,” Mr Bushby said.
“The more opportunities we can provide to tier 2 and 3 contractors, the more we can foster a competitive and skilled construction sector to deliver the transport projects WA and Australia will need in the future.”
Mr Bushby said WA’s contracting sector would especially welcome the streamlining of procurement processes to reduce the cost of tendering.
“The establishment of a state-wide Construction Panel Contract for projects up to a value of $20 million is a great initiative,” he said.
“This will make a significant difference to the time and cost involved in bidding for these projects, and ultimately drive competition and more cost-efficient outcomes for WA taxpayers.”
Mr Bushby said governments rightly expected value for money from contractors, however the number of contractors (large and small) who were struggling across Australia at a time of record investment in infrastructure showed something was wrong.
“In the eastern states, medium and small contractors have increasingly been squeezed out from bidding because projects have become too large,” he said.
“Not only are the big contractors assuming a huge and disproportionate amount of financial risk, the smaller contractors with spare capacity aren’t able to take on that risk.
“Reforming the way we procure these projects is an urgent priority for all governments.
“More broadly, improved pipeline visibility is essential for industry to plan for capacity, particularly for mid-tier contractors who have the capacity to take on more work but are limited in their ability to take on larger projects.”
Mr Bushby also welcomed the announcement that Main Roads would be fast-tracking tendering for a number of large-scale road projects.
“Industry would welcome the opportunity to engage with government in a collaborative way to shape projects and to apply fit-for-purpose procurement,” he said.
COVID might be making the daily commute faster, but still no excuse to speed
Roads Australia has backed calls by Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey for road users to slowdown and stick to the rules in the face of a spike in fatalities in the Sunshine State.
So far this year there have been 67 fatalities on Queensland roads compared to 58 for the same period last year. This is despite the fact that traffic volumes are down more than 30 per cent, largely because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"With less drivers on the road, police are reporting people taking increased risks like speeding. Initial crash reports are also showing that not wearing a seatbelt has been a cause of lives lost on our roads,” Mr Bailey said last week.
Queensland’s latest stats buck both the national trend and the individual figures for NSW and Victoria.
At the end of March, the national toll stood at 286 – down 12.5 per cent on the same three-month period in 2019. In Victoria, the year-to-date toll is currently 17.3 per cent lower than for the same period last year, and in NSW 30 per cent lower.
Roads Australia CEO Michael Kilgariff this week backed Mr Bailey's call for road users to show the same caution on the State’s roads as they are in dealing with the COVID pandemic.>
“With fewer cars on the road because of stay-at-home restrictions, police and emergency service personnel would have been hoping for a commensurate reduction in accidents, injuries and fatalities,” Mr Kilgariff said.
“Instead, the reports out of Queensland point to an increase in risky behaviours like speeding. It’s also unfathomable that we are still seeing not-wearing-of-seatbelts showing up in accident statistics.”
Mr Kilgariff said the deaths last week of four police officers on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway underlined the particular risks taken by police and emergency services personnel and road workers in live traffic situations.
“Around Australia, the road industry is getting on with the job of building and maintaining roads as an essential service to the community,” he said.
“Accurate data on roadwork crashes in Australia is lacking, but it’s estimated that each year at least 50 deaths and 750 injuries occur to workers and the public in road worksite crashes, at a cost of more than $400 million. In any other workplace, those figures would be completely unacceptable.
“We’re talking about people who are out there day and night in all sorts of weather, building bridges and roads, filling potholes and resealing pavements, installing safety barriers, clearing culverts and saving lives.
>“The message is simple – no matter how light the traffic or the time of day, if you are passing a worksite, a broken-down vehicle or police or ambulance on the side of the road, be alert and slow down.”