THE Newcastle CBD is about to encounter more traffic delays, with the state government spending $40-million on 10 intersections from Wickham to Civic Park as part of the light rail program.
Revitalising Newcastle program director Michael Cassel says much of the road work will be done at night or outside peak times to limit disruption, and the improvements are needed to alleviate peak-time congestion in coming years.
But Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp says the work will turn people away from the city “even more” and he called on the Coalition government to treat CBD businesses fairly by extending Sydney’s light rail compensation package to Newcastle.
Mr Cassel downplayed the impact, saying the work had been planned and “telegraphed” since the light rail Review of Environmental Factors documents were made public in late 2016.
He said work would start immediately on two of the 10 intersections.
They were the intersection of Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue, near the Wickham interchange, and the intersection of Darby Street and King Street.
The rest of the program would be carried out in the coming months, with the work expected to last for the rest of the year.
While the Newcastle light rail approvals process found the intersection upgrades were needed to maintain traffic flow in the light of changes to the road system necessitated by the light rail, questions have been raised about the timing of the works program, given the disruption already caused by the complete closure of Hunter Street for the length of light rail track.
The Newcastle Herald put it to Revitalising Newcastle that the public had a right to question its promises, given it said it would build the Hunter Street light rail in sections, but then quietly changed its plans late last year.
Mr Cassell acknowledged this, but said Hunter Street was closed completely because it was better than confusing people by constantly changing road conditions.
“Every time we changed the traffic conditions we got a spike in the numbers of complaints, which then settled down after a fortnight when people adjusted to things,” Mr Cassel said.
“We’d then announce the next change, and the complaints would go back up, so the data was telling us it was better to make one more change, and to get on to the complete construction.”
He defended the pace of work on the light rail construction, saying the contractors were on time for light rail services to commence in 2019.
But Mr Crakanthorp said CBD businesses were already struggling with the disruption, and the 10-intersection program announced by Mr Cassel would only add to the load.
“We have now seen Hunter Street businesses close, relocate or discuss their future in the CBD,” Mr Crakanthorp said.
“Premier Gladys Berejiklian needs to be clear about what she can offer Newcastle businesses, after all, if they don’t survive this construction period, there will be no CBD for anyone to visit.”
On the Darby Street and King Street intersection, Revitalising Newcastle says the work will be done over five months in three stages.
The first stage is the widening of Darby Street on the Civic Park corner to create a new dedicated left-turn lane for traffic turning west onto King Street.
The work entails a new pedestrian crossing across the left-turn lane for pedestrians crossing King Street on the Civic Park side of Darby Street.
The second and third stages involve creating longer right-hand turn lanes for traffic approaching the intersection from both directions on Darby Street, and a longer left-turn lane for vehicles travelling west along King Street and turning into Darby Street.
Newcastle City Council originally had concerns over the Civic Park incursion.
READ MORE: Hands off Civic Park says council
The Stewart Avenue and Hunter Street work includes a new dedicated left-turn lane for northbound motorists on Stewart Avenue turning west into Hunter Street, a longer right-turn lane on Hunter Street for west-bound traffic turning north into Stewart Avenue (which becomes Hannell Street) and a widening of the north-west corner of the intersection to make it easier for traffic coming into the city along Hunter Street to turn left into Stewart Avenue.
The 2016 light rail environmental reports said 25 parking spots would be lost near the Hunter Street/Stewart Avenue intersection, and another 25 because of the works at Darby Street and King Street.
Questioned on the $40-million cost – which works out at an average of $4 million an intersection – Mr Cassel said that as well as providing new road surfaces and footpaths, the program included moving and replacing underground services at a number of intersections.
He said all 10 intersections were “pinch points” and improving them would aid long-term traffic flow in a city that was expected to have 4000 more dwellings by 2036.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.