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Heavy truck operators 'should have input on road upgrades'

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INFRASTRUCTURE Australia believes heavy truck operators ought to be able to negotiate over road upgrades with state road authorities but says the Productivity Commission is standing in the way.

In an extraordinary dispute between two of the government's key independent advisory bodies, Infrastructure Australia is protesting against the commission's decision to exclude road transport from its current review of infrastructure access.

The commission is conducting an inquiry into the 18-year-old infrastructure access regime under which the owners of ports, railway lines and gas pipelines can be forced to negotiate access to third parties.

This was a central element of the Hilmer reforms that paved the way for the privatisation of state government utilities. However, in its draft report released last month, the commission said the access regime was designed to stop infrastructure providers from abusing their monopoly position and there was no evidence this was the case with road operators. It said the restrictions over what roads could be used by heavy vehicles related to technical, safety or engineering factors, not market access.

In a public hearing being conducted by the Productivity Commission in Sydney today, Infrastructure Australia's policy director John Austen will argue there is no difference between roads and rail.

Infrastructure Australia argues that trucking companies should be able to negotiate road upgrades in the same way that coalmining companies using Australia Rail Track Corporation's Hunter Valley lines have been able to negotiate for upgrades, which they have helped finance.

Mr Austen will emphasise that Infrastructure Australia is referring only to major highways and heavily used roads such as port-access routes.

Infrastructure Australia's original submission, which the commission appears to have rejected, argued that there had been a 600 per cent rise in heavy vehicle productivity during the past 40 years but that further gains would be linked to the use of more productive vehicles such as the B-triple (a prime-mover and three trailers). This would require investment in strengthening bridges and footpaths, and installing more overtaking lanes.

Infrastructure Australia says the present method of recouping the cost of road maintenance and upgrades from heavy vehicle operators does nothing to encourage investment where it would give the greatest productivity gain.

Source: The Australian

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