WHEN the Newcastle rail line was viewed as a barrier to the CBD, the NSW government found hundreds of millions of dollars to replace it with light rail.
Lake Macquarie has its own rail barrier in the form of the main northern line as it snakes around the top of the lake. For decades, plans have existed to ease the barrier – not by ripping the line out, obviously – but by building a bridge over it from Pennant Street, Cardiff, in the Munibung industrial estate, to join the Glendale side next to the big Stockland shopping centre.
Add a new Glendale railway station and a bus stop and you have the major components of the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange, first proposed in the mid-1990s and first promised to be built, by the Carr Labor government, in 1998. The finish date was to be 2003. Since then, despite the long delay, the interchange has stayed at the top of the Hunter’s infrastructure wish list.
Throughout this time, nobody has seriously questioned the logic or benefit of the project. Work has even been completed on part of the first stage: a new road on the Glendale side that splits just before it ends, with one fork going to the shopping centre and the other ending near the railway line, waiting to be joined one day to a Pennant Street bridge.
Or that’s what everyone at this end of the project thought until this week, when the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Liberal MLC Scot MacDonald, made the surprise disclosure that government agencies had rejected a business case for the interchange completed for Lake Macquarie City Council in late 2016.
Given the project’s history, this is a disturbing development. The benefits of the Pennant Street bridge are so straightforward, and the cost so relatively modest, that the government cannot rely on “confidential” assessments to undermine it.
Nor can it continue to string along the project’s supporters with annual dribbles of “planning” funding if the powers-that-be have already decided the bridge is a non-starter, as Mr MacDonald repeatedly said this week in a recorded interview with the Newcastle Herald.
In this regard, we thank Mr MacDonald for his honesty. But with the government’s overall attitude towards the project now in the public arena, the time has come for Transport Minister Andrew Constance to step up and explain what is going on.
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