Feds offer councils stimulus cash

Bike routes could benefit from a Federal Government stimulus package on offer to councils for transport projects.

The program aims to pump funding into local government over the next six months to keep employment alive during the expected crunch period of the coronavirus on the economy.

Councils need to have “shovel-ready” projects the can be mobilised immediately.

This should favour active transport infrastructure, such as the bike lanes and trails that councils have been rolling out across the nation.

Such projects are typically quick to get out of the starting blocks, and are often of a scale that can be implemented in a limited time period.

And they are the type of projects that can make good use of local labour and local small business enterprises.

Many councils that we know have bike plans, with action plans and 4-year budget allocations, and even projects that right now are in the design phase, and in some cases out to tender.

They should have been on Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack’s desk already, if councils have had their skates on.

However, the Minister has already had to extend the deadline for submissions once, not a good sign.

Mr McCormack’s original request – designed to support local economies recover from the impact of Covid-19 – was sent to mayors and councillors on 6 March, with a deadline for responses of 20 March.

That is a very tight deadline. Effectively it means that the only projects that could have potential for funding were the that were already in development.

In a letter on 1 April, Mr McCormack advised mayors and councillors that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications recognised some councils “may not have been in a position to respond due to disruptions caused by COVID-19, as well as drought and bushfire recovery efforts.”

“At this stage we are only seeking to obtain an early indication of potential projects that could be fast-tracked within the next six months,” Mr McCormack wrote.

Councils have been advised that projects could include either new or existing projects that are planned to begin within three to six months and be eligible for funding under the Commonwealth’s Infrastructure Investment Program (IIP). The IIP assists local governments to upgrade local roads, bridges and intersections.

Bike infrastructure should be front of mind for councils now, given the crowding that has occurred recently on many of the popular trails.

Good trails are sparse and we need more of them. And most councils already have mapped out their future networks.

Bike riders everywhere should be keeping a close eye on their councils, monitoring where they are up to with bike projects, and prodding them to make use of this rarely offered Commonwealth cash.