The state government is confident long-awaited private investment will flow into Hunter Street after a section of the road reopens to traffic on Tuesday morning.
The two long blocks between Union Street and Darby Street and the Worth Place connection to Honeysuckle Drive will open to cars after more than 10 months of light rail construction work.
East-bound traffic will be able to turn right into Darby Street but not Auckland Street. Parts of the reopened road will be single lane and the speed limit will be 40 kilometres an hour.
The bitumen sits flush with the concrete base of the light rail tracks, but motorists are not allowed to drive in the tram lanes.
The 60 per cent of the route east of Darby Street could reopen in September before the first of six trams arrives from Spanish manufacturer CAF late that month or in early October. The trams will be tested over several months before the line starts operating most likely in February.
The state government views the $650 million Revitalising Newcastle program, which includes the light rail line, as a driver of economic growth in the CBD.
The project has attracted criticism from some traders whose businesses have suffered a decline in customers during construction, but parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said on Monday that he hoped the Hunter Street reopening would demonstrate the tram’s potential to stimulate investment.
“I think it’s fair to say this part around Worth Place hasn’t performed well over the past 30 or 40 years,” he said. “We have seen renewal in other parts of the city, but now we’re seeing the transport infrastructure come through, urban amenity being built, better footpaths.
“It’s opened up, it’s very attractive looking down to Worth Place.
“I believe you’ll see that confidence return here. I think you’ll see that will to invest up and down Hunter Street.”
Newy Burger Co, which moved to a temporary store in Honeysuckle during light rail construction, said on its Facebook page on Sunday that it was moving back to Hunter Street on August 1.
It said it had lost about $100,000 in trade, extra rent and moving expenses in the past seven months.
“We feel strongly for those that haven’t made it through this revitalisation and lost their businesses as a result,” the post reads.
Revitalising Newcastle program director Michael Cassel said on Monday that he was “very hopeful the traders can now see the quality of the end product”.
“My data shows that there’s plenty of parking, plenty of options. Civic Lane will open again this week, so all of this will start to come together, so there’s no reason not to come into the city,” he said.
The section of road reopening on Tuesday includes about 20 two-hour parking spaces and several loading zones. The rest of the tram route has virtually no parking.
The light rail tracks do not have electricity running through them. The trams will be charged at each of the six stops by an overhead pantograph.