The peculiar case of toll roads in eastern Australia

Prof. Phillip O’Neill1

1Western Sydney University, Penrith, Australia


The emergence of Transurban as the monopoly controller of motorways, bridges and tunnels in Mebourne, Sydney and Brisbane is distinctive in many ways. Transurban is equal in efficiency to any motorway operator in the world. Its corporate structure is unusual and innovative. Its assets are overwhelmingly intangible. It is deliberately leveraged to the hilt, although its ratings are very favourable. Its share register is dominated by new savings aggregators, especially superannuation funds, keen for the returns on offer. It has captured an economic sector quickly and with little regulatory oversight.

How should economic geography interpret Transurban? A Northern political economy account might present Transurban as an advanced form of financialised neoliberalism penetrating deep into urban life; but this would confine too much geography to context. An account of Transurban as the product of Australia’s bold late-20th century restructuring might construct Transurban as a ground-breaking experiment in hybridity involving the state and new forms of private finance; but this would push aside worrying urban and environmental outcomes.

The paper explores the interpretative options of this remarkable case with a view to highlighting the tensions in contemporary economic geography between accounting for the peculiar and formulating the general.


Phillip O’Neill is Professor of Economic Geography at Western Sydney University.

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