Newcastle is probably on the verge of losing a chance to build an extremely valuable road, one that would take traffic off residential streets, serve the future employment zone on the old steelworks site and give us faster, easier driving.
The corridor for this road is available and ready to go. It runs straight from McDonald Jones Stadium to Industrial Drive, partly through the UGL site at Broadmeadow and partly along the Port Waratah coal rail line.
The state government is considering how the UGL site should be redeveloped as part of a grand plan for Broadmeadow. A draft scheme is due to be published next year. Since the Department of Planning and Environment shows little interest in planning for improved car travel in Newcastle, it is highly likely to pass up this now-or-never opportunity to reserve a splendid road corridor.
We must demand that the state government, for once, looks to Newcastle's long-term future and, for once, plans for an additional major road.
Call this one the Port Waratah Motorway - because it could, and should, be built to motorway standards. We don't need the state to build it now; we just need planning and land reservation.
Considering the cost and difficulty of providing arterial roads in old, dense parts of a city, the availability of this corridor is amazing. It was created in the early 1860s when the old Waratah Coal Company built a rail line for its new ship-loading facilities on what is now the south arm of the Hunter River. The northeastern end of the corridor is still active, accommodating the rail line that feeds the Port Waratah coal loader and nearby harbour facilities at Carrington. The rest is either unused or occupied by sheds of no great value.
Because the corridor has been used for a railway, no houses face it, which means it's ready-made for an unobtrusive motorway with minimal impact on local amenity. It's also magnificently proportioned, with a minimum width of 44 metres as it passes Tighes Hill TAFE.
The width should be enough for a combination of 12 heavy or light rail tracks and road lanes. For example, we could keep four train tracks, which should be quite enough for harbourside industry, and have six road traffic lanes, plus a lane-width on each side for interchange ramps and merging. Alternatively, we could include two tracks for an orbital (cross-city) tramline that we should also be planning.
The owner of the UGL site, GDI Property Group, has presented a design concept that reserves its section of the rail corridor as public space. That's commendable, but a far better idea would be to use the irreplaceable corridor for transportation, fitting more public space elsewhere in the development zone.
At its northeastern end, the three-kilometre Port Waratah Motorway should commence with an interchange at Industrial Drive. Since a new bridge would be needed, the opportunity should be taken to realign and straighten Industrial Drive. (See the map.) The motorway would then run in the existing cutting beside Tighes Hill, with a carriageway on each side of the rail tracks, then under Maitland Road, where there would be exit and entry ramps.
Alongside the TAFE, the carriageways would descend into trenches to approach tunnels taking them under a rail junction. An interchange with Scholey and Chinchen streets might be incorporated, though not cheaply. It would require additional tunnelling and include a straight bridge linking Scholey and Chinchen streets.
Then the road would continue in a trench, passing under Georgetown Road and towards its interchange near the stadium. By keeping it below surface level, designers could provide flat bridges above it and ensure it was hardly noticeable to the locals.
Those locals would benefit greatly, because the motorway would take traffic away from houses. Drivers would use it instead of Hanbury Street, back streets of Mayfield, Clyde Street, Chatham Road and various zigzags through Islington and Tighes Hill. That's traffic that will increase and become more troublesome as the city grows and densifies. The motorway would also carry some traffic that would otherwise be on Maitland Road.
Considering the cost and difficulty of providing arterial roads in old, dense parts of a city, the availability of this corridor is amazing.
Importantly, it would divert vehicles away from the city centre. Inner Newcastle has excellent arterial roads serving the city centre - but they carry traffic not just to it but through it. Instead, we should have a good orbital route that gives people a convenient way of avoiding the city centre when they're not going there.
Imagine how good it would be to have the Port Waratah Motorway now. But consider the future, when we will have not only more people but also a container facility and other activities on the steelworks site and adjacent land.
That employment zone should have decent road connections - and not just to the northwest along Industrial Drive but southwest to where so many Novocastrians live - for example, Lambton, Kotara, Charlestown and beyond.
If it's amazing that we have a ready-made motorway corridor to serve the port, consider our luck that at the other end it connects to existing arterial roads: the A15 (Griffiths and Newcastle roads, heading to the Pacific and Hunter motorways) and the B63 (Turton and Bridges roads).
What no one seems to have considered is that the A15 will eventually have to become a motorway from the Cameron Park interchange to Broadmeadow. So the Port Waratah Motorway would eventually connect with the state motorway network.
And, as I have previously proposed, it could eventually lead to a cross-harbour tunnel to Stockton, a quite achievable idea that should also be in state planning.
But it can never be built if the state government instead zones the corridor for housing or parkland. All the signs suggest that it will do so. It must be told to stop and think about the transportation needs of the Newcastle of the future. And it must seize this remarkable, now-or-never opportunity to address them.
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