An independent assessment of public transport options connecting Mount Barker to metropolitan Adelaide led by Infrastructure SA is recommending a series of public transport improvements and road upgrades to better meet residents’ travel needs as the population grows.

The study confirmed commuters are impacted by congestion, which is concentrated on Glen Osmond Road and the Tollgate Intersection but can flow up the South Eastern Freeway. Increasing the uptake of public transport of any mode would help ease congestion as the population continues to grow. However, the main issue was found to be the lack of travel time reliability due to the large number of full or partial closures of the freeway. This is caused by the steep terrain leading to a higher than average number of breakdowns and traffic incidents. Hills residents are disproportionately impacted by this unreliability due the lack of viable alternatives to the freeway for the journey to metropolitan Adelaide.

In looking at different public transport options Infrastructure SA assessed 48 different configurations of services which included a commuter train on the existing train tracks, trains on a new rail corridor, new light rail and a bus rapid transit (BRT) service which would run, in part, on dedicated lanes on the South Eastern Freeway. The study found that any service on the existing rail corridor would not be able to provide competitive travel times or travel reliability to meet the needs of the community in the Hills.

“ISA approached the study without any preconceptions about whether one mode was better than another. Ultimately efficient public transport service is more about the corridor than the mode. While there is legitimate community interest in the existing rail corridor, there are a series of physical and operational constraints that would limit any service. It would be more efficient to focus on improving bus services and the reliability of the freeway, which would benefit current and future bus patrons as well as other freeway users,” says Infrastructure SA Chief Executive, Jeremy Conway.

Improved bus services would have the capacity to meet forecast demand and are better suited to meet the needs of the highly dispersed low-density hills townships to a wide range of work and other destinations. The O-Bahn BRT service in Adelaide’s north, which carries approximately ten times the number of passengers as Hills public transport, has shown that with an efficient corridor, buses can outperform cars on travel time. A Hills BRT could reduce travel time from Mount Barker to under 40 minutes.

“It's important to progress some short-term initiatives to improve the uptake of public transport and the reliability of the South Eastern Freeway while a longer-term solution for a more efficient corridor is identified,” says Conway.

The study makes a series of recommendations such as increased Park n Ride capacity, bringing forward the completion of Heysen Boulevard in Mount Barker, targeted investment to improve efficiency and bus prioritisation on Glen Osmond Road and further investment in managed motorway initiatives to better respond to incidents on the freeway and ultimately enable rapid contra-flow. ISA recommends that the Department for Infrastructure and Transport undertake the necessary studies to identify the longer-term corridor solution. Any studies should consider all modes and users, including freight, and should consider staging solutions so benefits can be realised earlier.

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