Published in the Newcastle Herald: With the Wickham transport interchange taking shape on the western side of Stewart Avenue – and with light rail operator Keolis Downer promising a more frequent service than originally expected – legitimate questions are being asked about the traffic impacts on one of the inner city’s most problematic choke points.
When the heavy rail ran all the way to Newcastle station, there were often substantial road delays, especially at peak hours. The situation has eased somewhat since the line was cut, but the start of light rail services from 2019 will surely put more pressure on the city’s most important north-south crossing. As the Newcastle Herald is reporting today, the state government says the trams will have “no material impact” on the surrounding intersections, an assurance given little weight by some prominent critics of the Coalition’s transport plans for Newcastle.
In various planning documents made public last year, the government’s consultants set out likely traffic flows through the city until 2028. This traffic modelling found that things are likely to improve at many of the city’s main intersections once the light rail and an accompanying suite of roadworks are completed.
Regardless, Stewart Avenue’s intersections with King Street and Hunter Street are still predicted to suffer some of the biggest peak-hour delays, with ratings, in some circumstances, at the highest end of an “A-to-F” rating scale, with F representing an average delay of more than 70 seconds per vehicle.
In reality, only time will tell as to whether Stewart Avenue descends into the chaos the naysayers predict, or whether the government is right, and the light rail vehicles are able to slip back and forth across the road in time with the nearby traffic lights.
When the Herald joined a Hunter group in France last year inspecting light rail services, hosts Keolis Downer said that similar concerns were raised in French regional cities before light rail was installed, but that these faded away once the system was up and running.
This is not to say that Newcastle’s peninsular geography will not present its own unique set of difficulties: it may well.
And the two years of construction will undoubtedly test the city’s patience.
But having come this far, we can only hope that the experts are right, and the overall result will be a better city, both to live in and to move around.