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High-tech highways would ease city congestion

The average Sydney motorist spends 89 hours a year sitting in traffic, and that could rise to 110 hours.

"Hi-tech highways" could be the answer to Sydney's congestion crisis and put an end to the traffic bottlenecks and pinch points that plague our roads.

With warnings of monster gridlocks that threaten to turn Sydney into another Mexico City by 2035, transport planners are being urged to use new "smart road" management technologies.

NRMA president Kyle ­Loades said NSW once led the way in innovative transport infrastructure "but that was when Model-T Fords populated our roads".

The average Sydney motorist already spends 89 hours a year sitting in traffic jams

"That must change," Mr Loades said. "The last time Australia led the world in innovative design and engineering was in 1930 when we built the Harbour Bridge."

While Sydney's motorways and major arterial roads used to perform efficiently, a hike in the number of cars in the past 15 years, much of it as a result of people not prepared to use public transport, is turning them into virtual peak-hour car parks.

The average Sydney motorist already spends 89 hours a year sitting in traffic jams, with experts predicting that could jump to 110 hours if nothing is done.

Infrastructure Australia found that congestion on the Sydney-Newcastle-Wollongong road network costs the state economy $5.5 billion a year. This could almost triple to $15 billion by 2031.

Sydney Motorway Corporation chief executive Dennis Cliche said 21st century "smart" features had been incorporated into the new M4 motorway. It will become part of WestConnex, which would be "fully operational as a smart motorway".

Transurban, owners of the bulk of Sydney's motorway network, is pushing for "high occupancy toll" lanes, where motorists pay more to drive faster in express lanes, to be introduced to help relieve congestion.

Our cities will become carparks within the next 20 years

Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton said that on the company's motorway in Virginia in the US, toll prices in express lanes are increased or decreased depending on available capacity.

"These lanes run alongside the regular lanes and motorists have three choices: travel on the regular lanes for free, pay to use the express lanes, where they can rely on minimum speed of 90km/h, or car pool or take the bus and travel on the express lanes for free.

"Unless Australia starts to get serious about how we are going to fund, manage and operate our roads and public transport systems, our cities will become carparks within the next 20 years," Mr Charlton said.

Mr Loades urged NSW to follow the Victorian example and adopt its "managed motorways" approach, which had helped reduce travel times and crashes by 50 per cent.

Smart road features:

1) Longer entrance ramps fitted with special traffic signals to control when cars merge.

2) Roadway sensors used to adjust traffic flow so cars merge more smoothly on the motorway.

3) A dedicated radio network that broadcasts information on traffic incidents and alternate routes directly to vehicles.

4) Variable electronic speed signs that slow down or speed up traffic depending on how busy the road is.

5) Special lighting in tunnels to keep drivers alert.

Would you pay more to drive in an express lane on the motorway? Let us know in the comments below.