Hunter Street businesses experience first day in Newcastle light rail works zone

CLEAR PATH: A scooter rider crosses Hunter Street on Tuesday after work began on the light rail project. A section of the street between Auckland and Darby streets is closed to traffic. Picture: Marina Neil

CLEAR PATH: A scooter rider crosses Hunter Street on Tuesday after work began on the light rail project. A section of the street between Auckland and Darby streets is closed to traffic. Picture: Marina Neil

It didn’t take long for some CBD businesses to feel the pinch of Newcastle’s light rail construction.

Work on the Hunter Street part of the major project started on Tuesday and is expected to keep a stretch of the city’s main street off-limits to traffic until the end of the year.

Business owners on the closed part of Hunter Street, between Auckland and Darby streets, are bracing for a challenging three months as they figure out how to adapt to the new conditions.

Tanya Corradi, from NNT Uniforms, was openly critical of the work on Tuesday morning.

She said the road closure had already meant a delivery driver had to park two blocks up Hunter Street and walk 20 boxes of clothing to the store, opposite Newcastle court house.

Ms Corradi said she believed the final result wouldn’t be worth the pressure that construction was going to put on CBD businesses.

“There’s no-one around, it’s like a ghost town. There’s nothing happening,” she said.

“There’s nowhere to park and it’s chaos. You’ve got to turn at the university and go up to King Street and it’s bumper-to-bumper in the morning trying to get around.

“They’ve just ruined it – Newcastle’s ruined. Why are we spending all this money to do this?

“I just think it’s a waste of money.”

Ms Corradi said she believed the light rail network should have been built in the city’s old heavy rail corridor.

“There’s a big railway track behind us – why wouldn’t they just use that space?

“Why dig all this up and cause chaos ... going all the way up?”

The Herald also spoke with other Hunter Street business owners who would not speak publicly about their concerns.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said he was excited to see Newcastle transform, but acknowledged the challenges.

“With all major construction there is some disruption,” he said.

“I won’t pretend there won’t be some short-term pain, but there will be long-term gain at the end.

“Our experience is that drivers will see traffic settle down once everyone gets used to the changes.

“In less than two years, Newcastle light rail will be part of everyday life.”

A Newcastle Now spokesperson said the CBD business advocacy group had received varying reports about travel times on Tuesday morning.

“There was noticeable traffic congestion during the morning peak hour, however, we expect that drivers will quickly work out their most efficient way into the city by altering their start time, travel route, car pooling or even using a park-and-ride option,” she said. 

“It is still very easy to walk around the city, particularly along Hunter Street.”

After the stretch between Auckland and Darby streets is complete in December, work will shuffle down Hunter Street to a patch between Worth Place and Auckland Street.

Work on Scott Street, between Pacific and Telford streets, is also expected to begin in December.

Construction between Crown and Perkins streets is scheduled to begin in November and work between Crown and Darby streets is due to start next year.

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