Newcastle light rail’s $40-million program of intersection upgrades

CORNER CUT: Looking west along King Street on Sunday, to the corner of Civic Park that will be cut to make way for a less acute lef-turn from Darby Street into King Street. The state government has announced a $40-million program of 10 intersection upgrades needed for road traffic to work as smoothly as possible with the light rail.
CORNER CUT: Looking west along King Street on Sunday, to the corner of Civic Park that will be cut to make way for a less acute lef-turn from Darby Street into King Street. The state government has announced a $40-million program of 10 intersection upgrades needed for road traffic to work as smoothly as possible with the light rail.

IT was obvious from the start that light rail would have a substantial impact on traffic flows throughout the CBD.

Even if the modern-day tram was spectacularly successful, and lured thousands of people a day into its carriages, the city would still be jam-packed with cars at peak-hour each morning and afternoon.

But with train tracks taking up two lanes of Hunter Street, pressure problems would grow at some intersections, as the state government revealed in the light rail Review of Environmental Factors in 2016.

PREDICTIONS: Intersection preformances from A (the highest) to F (the worst) using traffic flows typical for this year. Notice that the traffic at Hunter Street and Darby Street, for example, is worse in the afternoons after light rail, whether or not the road works are done. The Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue intersection is regarded as an F in both morning and afternoon peaks, but improves once light rail is installed.

PREDICTIONS: Intersection preformances from A (the highest) to F (the worst) using traffic flows typical for this year. Notice that the traffic at Hunter Street and Darby Street, for example, is worse in the afternoons after light rail, whether or not the road works are done. The Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue intersection is regarded as an F in both morning and afternoon peaks, but improves once light rail is installed.

To counter this, traffic experts came up with changes at 10 intersections from Wickham to Civic Park, designed to maximise traffic flow wherever possible.

It is this package of works that Revitalising Newcastle has announced will start on Monday, running all the way to the end of the year in a $40-million program that substantially extends the footprint of disruption made necessary by the light rail.

A DECADE ON: Some intersections improve, but the intersection of King Street and Union Street, for example, is predicted to be worse off with light rail at the afternoon peak, even after the package of intersection improvements.

A DECADE ON: Some intersections improve, but the intersection of King Street and Union Street, for example, is predicted to be worse off with light rail at the afternoon peak, even after the package of intersection improvements.

When the light rail was still in its planning stages, the government spent plenty of time and energy assuring people that the construction disruption would be as minimal as it could be.

But theory and practice are two different things.

The disruption in George Street, Sydney, has been so great that the government has agreed to compensate affected businesses.

But the Sydney CBD is so large that the overall impact on foot traffic and road traffic has been relatively small.

In Newcastle, by contrast, the loss of Hunter Street east of Worth Place has been nothing less than a sledgehammer blow to every business along that strip.

That’s why the intersection upgrade program is such a vexed question.

Clearly, the work has to be done.

And given the impact that the existing disruption has caused, nobody is interested in having the jackhammers in the CBD for longer than is absolutely necessary.

But the thought of a new package of work – starting with the key intersections of King Street and Darby Street, and Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue – may well keep even more people out of the city than has been the case so far.

When the Newcastle Herald visited light rail cities in France two years ago, Keolis executives acknowledged that the construction phase had been invariably unpopular in their country, and was likely to be so in ours.

They were right.

But they were adamant the rancour would disappear once the services began.

For everyone’s sake, here’s hoping that prediction also proves true.

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