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Congestion busting Minister embraces autonomous transport future

Intelligent transport systems solutions are expected to reduce peak travel times for freight movers and commuters by 30 per cent on Government highway initiatives currently underway it has been announced.

Speaking at the opening day of the Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit in Melbourne, Alan Tudge Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure said projects like the Kwinana Smart Freeway system in Perth and the Bruce Highway upgrades in Queensland were examples of technology getting better utilisation of hundreds of billions of dollars of existing road assets.

According to Tudge, even a small improvement in capacity utilisation of existing roads and rail can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Over the last decade, the freeways have slowed, the trains have become fuller, and many are concerned that it will only get worse," he said.

"Intelligent Transport System solutions—such as ramp metering, dynamic speed limits, reversible lanes, variable signage and traffic signal priority for emergency and freight vehicles—can massively increase road utilisation and hence, effective capacity," said Tudge.

Tudge said urban congestion was largely a function of rapid population growth and infrastructure was not keeping pace.

The Federal Government, according to Tudge, was putting into place policies to ease the population pressures on Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as they had been growing very fast by historic and international standards.

The three state capitals accounted for 75 per cent of Australia's population growth in recent years.

Reducing the migration rate, which currently amounted to 60 per cent of the national population growth, was part of the plan according to Tudge, who said new arrivals would be encouraged to settle in regional areas and smaller cities where more workers were needed.

Congestion costs were likely to drop by more than a quarter according to findings by the federal Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics under a fast penetration scenario involving automated vehicles.

In the scenario automated vehicles account for 30 per cent of kilometres travelled, increasing road utilisation by having cars and other vehicles safely travel more closely together.

Vehicles only occupy around 8 per cent of the bitumen according to US-based automated vehicle provider Zoox, when analysing traffic movements on a freeway before vehicles slow below the regulated speed.

"Ninety two percent of the freeway is not occupied, but is necessary for driver safety," said Tudge.

"If that eight percent figure was doubled through precise sensing and automation, then you are effectively doubling the freeway capacity," he said.

"We are preparing for this possible future of automated vehicles through the Transport and Infrastructure Council and our creation of the Office of Future Transport Technologies."

The $47 million Kwinana Smart Freeway system in Perth was already utilising intelligent transport systems such as coordinated ramp signals, all-lane running through a lane management system, variable speed limits and upgraded driver information system which were anticipated to boost freeway capacity bt 33 per cent.

Kwinana Smart Freeway system in Perth is a great example of this. Costing $47 million (of which the Australian Government is contributing $38 million), the project is expected to boost the freeway capacity by 33 percent through coordinated ramp signals, all-lane running through a lane management system, variable speed limits and an upgraded driver information system.

If we were to boost the capacity of that freeway by the 33 percent by building new lanes, the cost would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Tudge said.

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