'CHEAP' TRAM EXTENSION PLAN DIVIDES BUSINESS
7 August 2015, Written by Jenna Rathbone & Nick Nichols
IT HAS been billed as the express route - the fast-track light rail extension that the Gold Coast needs to service the horde expected to descend on the city during the Commonwealth Games.
However, city leaders are divided on whether the planned 7.3km extension to the light rail proposed will serve the city best.
Under the proposal, the Palaszczuk Government has opted to skirt around key population zones in its bid to connect the light rail system to Helensvale railway station. The track will follow Smith Street from Olsen Avenue to the M1 and then turn north and track alongside the heavy rail route to Helensvale.
It also has opted for just two tram stops to make the trip an express journey for train travellers keen to get to Surfers Paradise beaches and to selected events at the 2018 Games.
One stop will be located at Parkwood, although vehicle access issues have yet to be assessed for this stop. The other, further west, has a park-and-ride facility that will supplement a similar facility at Helensvale.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has described the planned light rail extension as a project of national significance due to its value to the Commonwealth Games, in the hope of building a case for federal funding which is essential for the proposal to proceed.
"A tram journey on the new route would take approximately 11 minutes - more than seven minutes faster than the alternative Olsen Avenue alignment," says Trad.
"And importantly, it is possible the new route will be able to be delivered for less than half the cost and within a shortened procurement and construction timeframe.
"The Palaszczuk Government is working hard to explore all delivery and financing options available to ensure the project provides the best value for money and can be delivered in time for the Games, but we need the Abbott Government to step up and make a contribution."
However, Gold Coast business leaders are divided on whether the extension is the right one and whether haste is called for considering the significance assigned to it by the government.
Ray White Surfers Paradise CEO Andrew Bell says linking the light rail to heavy rail should be a priority, but it should not be rushed.
"I don't believe governments are best at making the calls on this (the route) - they eventually have to sign off on it - but you need experts in the fields of transport to look at these sort of things and come up with the best proposal," says Bell.
Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce President Peter Yared says it is vital the second stage of the light rail is completed before the Commonwealth Games and that this is the best option if it is to be delivered before 2018.
"I am very excited about the prospect of the second stage and it going ahead, it seems quite promising," says Yared.
"In terms of the route, the way they have suggested taking it out through Smith Street and out to the two train stations is definitely the easiest and the less disruptive way. Obviously by going along that path down Smith Street, it is not impacting businesses and there will be limited issues with residents.
"In terms of getting it done fast, efficiently and with the smallest amount of disruption it is definitely the best route to take.
"If the route was going any other way, it would not be completed by 2018 - having the light rail complete before the Commonwealth Games is vital."
Member for Southport Rob Molhoek has described the announcement by Labor as "smoke and mirrors" and says it is not a new route but the route that has always been suggested.
"The route that has been identified is the same route that has always been discussed from the very start, it is the route that makes the most sense," says Molhoek.
"It was the route that was initially intended to be part of stage one but ended up getting chopped out because of finances.
"There are no surprises in the route selection - it is where most of the population base is, it will service all of the industrial area at the back of Helensvale and I think it is a good option."
He adds that it just isn't viable to connect the second stage to Harbour Town.
"The original route was always going to go through Parkwood to Helensvale but there was a push from a couple of interest groups and Harbour Town Shopping Centre that that route was looked at as an alternative," he says.
"When they did the analysis seven or eight years ago now it came back that it was far too expensive because of the Coombabah Lakes Flood Plain so it added about $400-500 million to the cost. Also there is just not enough people living in the corridor to justify it.
"The route was ruled out by us, it was ruled out by them, it was ruled out by council, it has been off the table for a couple of years. This is just smoke and mirrors at the moment - that is the route everyone has been considering consistently for the last decade."
The State Government has opened an expressions-of-interest process to design and construct the second stage. Light rail operator GoldLinQ has been enlisted to assist the government with the process.
Expressions of interest will be open from August 10 and close on August 28.
Author: Jenna Rathbone & Nick Nichols