Sustainable Transport Infrastructure: The Tipping Point

Kate Hartness

Head of Marketing and Communications
BG&E Sydney
With Australia’s priority rail and road projects set to increase by $17.9 billion, according to the Federal Government’s 2022-23 budget, now is the time for the transport infrastructure sector to transform the nation’s position as green economy laggard.

According to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, “The benefits of decarbonisation clearly outweigh the costs and embracing this challenge could hold enormous opportunities for a major boost in Australia’s productivity and export potential, economic strength, and financial prosperity.”

Support for enhanced sustainability measures is also growing amongst infrastructure investors who are cognizant of the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (NGER) Scheme, underpinned by the NGER Act 2007, and an increasing emphasis on Environmental, Social and Governance reporting by competitors.

As a result, engineers are seeing increasing requests from clients for sustainability outcomes, recognizing the critical role their expertise can play in infrastructure design, materials, the construction process and even operations, according to Anna Murray, BG&E’s Senior Associate – Rail, located in Melbourne.

She says, “For a number of years now, clients have pointed to sustainability factors, but not in a cohesive or comprehensive way, which is on par with an emphasis on construction costs and timeframes.

“However, I am currently working on the concept development through to detailed design of a confidential major infrastructure project, with a view to decreasing carbon emissions at each stage of the project lifecycle, including development and operations, in accordance with the client’s request.”

While a promising development for transport infrastructure, sustainability outcomes can be accelerated by proactive collaboration between engineers and clients from the first stage of the project lifecycle. The design phase packs a punch for sustainability and infrastructure performance outcomes, which often reaps rewards in terms of reduced construction costs and timeframes, according to Stuart Cook, BG&E’s Civil Transport Lead, located in Brisbane.

He says, “For decades we have been designing for structural efficiency and enhanced performance, prioritising construction costs and timeframes, but often this is also one of the best measures for reducing resources and enhancing sustainability.”

This was certainly the case for the Queensland Government Department of Main Roads and Transport’s $164 million Smithfield Bypass – a vital piece of infrastructure for the northern beaches of Cairns, in Far North Queensland, for which Stuart’s team provided an alternate layout to the reference design, in partnership with HDR.

The new layout drew significantly more traffic to the intersection, reducing congestion within the Smithfield Township, while saving resources and millions of dollars in construction costs by eliminating additional infrastructure, which would have proved redundant within a decade. The resource savings earned certification by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) for an Excellent Design Infrastructure Sustainability Rating.

Alex Wong, BG&E’s Senior Associate – Civil, located in Melbourne, has also seen a focus on structural efficiency deliver enhanced sustainability in his team’s projects.

He says, “When we challenged a reference design that was considered complete, to find value engineering opportunities on a site which is highly constrained, we discovered a new layout could deliver significant cost, program and resource savings.”

The project Alex references was VicTrack’s redevelopment of the Ballarat Station precinct in the central highlands of Victoria, for which his team completely reconfigured the carpark layout and challenged the shared use path strategy for the bus interchange, for BMD Constructions. The new layout removed the need for lengthy retaining wall structures, including a section of wall that would have spanned over a heritage protected drainage culvert structure.

Optimal sustainability outcomes are achieved when both design and materials are considered, accounting for interdependency between the two, according to Ben Keith, BG&E’s Senior Associate – Rail, located in Brisbane.

He says, “If considered at the design phase, recyclable and sustainable materials can be used effectively, while achieving infrastructure design life and other performance objectives.”

For the $21.5 million Main West Capacity Improvement project by Transport for New South Wales, Ben’s team provided the detailed design for John Holland, which reduced fill requirements and construction costs through use of recycled materials.

Industry-wide implementation of design and materials innovation for sustainability benefits, alongside several others, could be achieved with collaboration from industry stakeholders. This is the one thing that is clear in the sustainability debate – meaningful advances depend upon input from government, asset owners and investors, engineers, and other technical experts.

It is no surprise that increased collaboration between the client and integrated project teams (IPT) can also enhance decarbonisation and other sustainability outcomes for individual projects, as Padraic Murphy, BG&E’s Civil Lead for Western Australia, demonstrated for the $825 million Bunbury Outer Road Ring (BORR) project by Main Roads Western Australia (MRWA).

As an Infrastructure Sustainability Accredited Professional with ISCA, Padraic fulfilled the role of Service Delivery Manager and undertook project development with joint venture partner GHD for the BORR project. He adopted a formalised decision-making process for the IPT since the commencement of the project, which was the largest regional development project by MRWA, in accordance with the ISCA framework.

Four workstreams, representing sustainability, environmental, technical and community considerations were integrated throughout the project, informed by materiality assessments for each of these areas. Workstreams provided their input on project decisions via an integrated development tool and undertook further collaboration on major decisions involving several workstreams, where required. Each workstream also informed assessment criteria for the project.

Padraic says, “In addition to enhanced project outcomes in relation to sustainability, environmental, technical and community aspects, the ISCA aligned process also supported project approvals with robust insights.”

While the answers regarding sustainability regulation and further innovation may not be clear at this stage, the way forward certainly is – collaboration is key to decarbonise Australia’s transport infrastructure, the demand for which is increasing due to distances between major cities, regional and population growth. Australia’s transport emissions have risen by 48.8 percent compared to 1990 levels, and supporting infrastructure contributes to the construction industry’s 30 to 50 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year. To deliver on the Federal Government’s commitment, delivered in October 2021, to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the tipping point for evolution is now, if not several years ago.


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