A SECRET plan to charge motorists for every kilometre they travel on southeast Queensland's existing and planned motorways has been developed by the Bligh Government.
Ahead of Tuesday's State Budget, The Courier-Mail can reveal the Government has made a detailed analysis of how to squeeze more money out of existing road infrastructure.
Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show the Department of Transport and Main Roads has developed a "distance-based tolling" model for the Gateway and Logan motorways.
A proposal dubbed "Connecting Motorways" also extends to a Brisbane "ring road" system which would include untolled roads such as the Darra to Springfield section of the Ipswich Motorway and the Centenary Highway, as well as the yet-to-be constructed Northern Link tunnel.
Drivers travelling the length of existing tolled motorways, such as the Gateway, would save money under a favoured model to charge 12¢ per kilometre travelled. But thousands of trips which now avoid toll points would draw charges.
Main Roads Minister Craig Wallace yesterday confirmed the plan for distance-based tolls was taken to Cabinet this year.
"Cabinet was of the opinion that our (current) single point tolling was correct," he said.
Opposition transport spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said the Government had promised before not to do things, such as assets sales, only to proceed when it was politically convenient.
The RTI search identified more than 800 pages of documents in which distance-based tolling was discussed, most produced in the past 18 months.
But 564 pages were not released because of Cabinet secrecy and the potential economic impact on the sale of the Queensland Motorways franchise. Many of these relate to modelling likely to show how much money distance-based tolls would raise compared with the fixed toll regime.
"Further work on DBT (distance-based tolling) for the existing motorway network will be driven by the need to inform the QML asset divestment process and this is being scoped now," one internal email read. But one document shows distance tolls of 10¢ to 20¢, as well as a 12¢ model combined with exiting toll points, could raise up to an additional $80 million a year.
So serious was the Government about distance tolls last year that teams of consultants were hired to develop detailed options and traffic modelling.
In one brief for consultancy services, distance-based tolls were considered all but a foregone conclusion and the role involved developing "political and public acceptance".
The consultant's report was not released.
Mr Wallace said it was investigated along with congestion charging after being promoted by the RACQ but rejected because of the region's "geography". He could not recall when.
"The advice from my department is it wouldn't have had an impact on congestion throughout the network," he said.
RACQ spokeswoman Lynda Schekoske said the motoring body had never advocated distance tolling.
"In fact, we were very concerned that they may use the sale of Queensland Motorways as an excuse to impose distance-based tolls on other parts of the network," she said.
Ahead of the Queensland Motorways sale, the Government will significantly increase Gateway and Logan tolls from July 1, raising a similar amount to the distance model.