Chair’s Op-Ed: Stuck In Traffic? Time For a Rethink

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This week the Grattan Institute released a new report – Stuck in Traffic – Road Congestion in Melbourne and Sydney– essentially confirming the obvious:  congestion is a crippling problem in the CBDs and inner suburbs of Australia’s two largest cities.

So what exactly is the cost? The Australian Government’s own research estimates that every year, congestion costs $6.1 billion in Sydney and $4.6 billion in Melbourne.  These costs are projected to more than double by 2030.

The Grattan Institute’s solution to this challenge is a congestion charge for road users.  This action will shift the cost of a growing nation on to unsuspecting punters – while also putting more barriers in front of residents who are simply aiming to ‘earn or learn’ and get ahead.

It is not just inner city road congestion that is crushing the liveability of our big cities – the gap is widening in the outer suburbs.  The National Growth Areas Alliance, which advocates for those in these suburbs, highlights that the current social and economic backlog of infrastructure needed in their communities is $50 billion, or $12,000 per resident.

The Alliance has also found that a further investment of $23 billion, or almost $4000 per resident, will be now until 2031 to keep infrastructure on a level playing field as the population of these areas continues to grow.

All of this begs two simple questions: as a nation have we reached a tipping point for our big cities? If we are to aiming to protect our envied way of life, is now the time for a new plan?

Regional Capitals Australia believes the answer is obvious – Australia’s 51 regional cities have room to grow with infrastructure that can be scaled on minimum investment.

This has been confirmed by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI), when they estimated that the backlog of infrastructure investment in regional cities would cost about $15 billion to close.

The RAI have also squashed the view, that the size of a city is the only way to measure contribution.  In the report Lighting Up our Great Small Cities: Challenging Misconceptions” identified that getting the planning right for regional cities has the potential to add $375 billion per year to the nation’s bottom line by 2031.

The future of programs like the Australian Government’s Regional City Deals, that were intended to prioritise the planning and investment in regional cities remain unclear.   Regional Capitals Australia, the organisation that I Chair, will continue to make the case that this investment is fundamental to the future of Australia.

In the meantime, we congratulate the Grattan Institute on their report, it serves as yet another and ever present reminder that action to create liveable, connected and affordable regional cities, needs action today.

Something for Sydneysiders and Melbournians to contemplate as they while away the hours in peak hour traffic, foot on the brake, going nowhere in a hurry.  Some might even contemplate their predicament as a good metaphor for the Grattan Institute’s thought leadership on this issue.


Rachael Sweeney, Regional Capitals Australia Secretariat
P: 03 9666 3368
M: 0422 067 858

About Regional Capitals Australia

Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) is a national alliance of local government councils across the nation representing Australia’s regional cities. RCA’s mission is to provide a recognised platform to champion the strategic importance and sustainable development of regional capitals around the nation. To learn more about our work visit

Available for Interview
Mayor Shane Van Styn – Chair, Regional Capitals Australia