The Palaszczuk Government has opened an expressions-of-interest (EOI) process to design and construct the second stage of the Gold Coast Light Rail Project from Gold Coast University Hospital/ Griffith University to Helensvale Heavy Rail Station.

Light rail operator GoldLinQ has been enlisted to assist the government with the process.

At face value, this appears to be an appropriate second stage of the development of the system. The first stage has been a success in terms of its actual patronage far exceeding pre-development projections (6 million in year one). It has been less of a success for those who must traverse the light rail corridor, with multiple road/light rail interfaces creating excessive traffic delays through ineffective traffic management practices.

The 7.3-kilometre alignment proposed in the Stage Two EOI delivers a transit system which adds only two extra stations (one with a park and ride station which is sorely missing at other locations on the Stage One alignment) and parallels the Smith Street Motorway (effectively a overlong off-ramp of the Pacific Motorway) and the Gold Coast Heavy Rail line north the Helensvale. This is a route that has little hope of developing the population density the light rail needs to be both effective and viable. There will also be extensive excavation of hard rock areas immediately adjacent to the Smith Street Motor way – a road that has, over the past 12 to 18 months, been subject to extensive upgrade and subsequent lengthening of travel times. The main driver to fast tracking Stage Two is for delivery prior to the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

As far as providing long-term economic and social benefit beyond the 2018 Commonwealth Games to the Gold Coast, however, the merits of the proposed alignment are questionable. There is minimal connectivity to the residential areas between the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH) and Helensvale.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Despite the EOI, both the Palaszczuk Government and Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate have said the project will not go ahead without Commonwealth Government funding, consistent with the Stage One funding. The Chamber of Commerce, Industry Queensland (CCIQ) and the Gold Coast small business community have praised the State Government for ensuring Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail System goes ahead.

CCIQ director of advocacy Nick Behrens said small business had stressed the importance of the second stage of the light rail system to ensure direct connectivity between the heavy and light rail lines and welcomed the State Government today calling for a short expression of interest campaign. However, the proposed alignment and its value to service the Gold Coast is likely to be the subject of much discussion by community leaders and residents over the foreseeable future. Two previous alternate alignments for Stage Two suggested:

  • Travel through Parkwood to the Gold Coast Highway, then west to Helensvale Heavy Rail Station (presumably along Napper Road and Arundel Drive – approximately seven kilometres)
  • Travel north along Olsen Avenue to HarbourTown Shopping Centre, then west along the Gold CoastHighway to the Helensvale Heavy Rail Station (approximately eight kilometres)

It is likely that those with vested interest in these two alignments will continue to lobby for a change. Both of these alternate alignments would service a much greater population and potentially reduce the vehicle movements in the area. It could be argued that the alignment has the potential to cater more for visitors to and from the Gold Coast than it does for residents. There are very few touch points for resident use.

Articles in Business News Australia by Nick Nichols report that member for Southport Rob Molhoek has noted that the route that has been identified is the same route that has always been discussed from the very start. Molhoek stated the route makes the most sense, arguing that it is where most of the population base is and that it will service all of the industrial area of Helensvale. He added that it isn’t viable to connect the second stage to Harbour Town. Molhoek has noted that previous studies have indicated that the Gold Coast Highway alignment was too expensive because of the Coombabah Lakes Flood Plain, which has previously been added $400 million to $500 million to the cost and that the population is not large enough to justify the extra expense.

While there may be a population base in the Parkwood area to support the proposed route, the majority of the population will need to park and ride to take full use of the system. Consider the location of the stations in the attached plans released by the operators. The comments by Molhoek regarding a perceived lack of a population base in the Harbour Town alignment belies the fact that the draft planning scheme provides for much higher density development at Harbour Town. Medium density residential density is proposed in the area to the east and north of Harbour Town (at one bedroom per 50 square metres) and a building height of 26 metres. Council has recently approved a 757-room development over nine buildings in this locality on a 27,450 square metre development site (out of 115,700 square metre lot). There is a similarly sized lot immediately to the north of this development site.

Harbour Town itself currently has a physical height around eight to 10 metres (depending on which part of the site is considered). The draft-planning scheme provides for a 38-metre building height over the Harbour Town site. Much of the eastern alignment of Olsen Avenue north of the GCUH to Harbour Town is zoned medium density residential in the draft planning scheme.

There is more land zoned medium impact industry development on this alignment (a 1.2-kilometre long and at least 500-metre wide corridor) than the alignment defined in the EOI (low impact industry corridor of 2.5 kilometres by 292 metres). In addition, on the Harbour Town alignment there are two high schools on this alignment that could support patronage of the light rail corridor (one on the Gold Coast Highway and the other approximately 800 metres away).

Land use planning and master planning of communities immediately adjacent to transit stations and the transit corridors has the capacity to improve the ability of these transit systems to reach or even exceed their passenger numbers. Compact urban form development characteristics of higher densities, more land use mixing, pedestrian-friendly environments, and closer access to regional destinations (especially jobs) are required to deliver successful transit systems. The strength of the local land market around the transit line is very influential in determining success in attracting new development, through ownership and land tenure, adjacent uses, topography, and availability for redevelopment.

Such development around transit corridors will see surrounding land holdings increase in value and discourage the use of private vehicles, a major incentive to using the Gold Coast Highway as part of the Stage Two alignment. Translating transport and land use strategic plans around the Stage Two development into realities need to be functional, easy to implement and meet the real needs of community, city administrations, amenity and safety, economic development and environmental protection.

The Harbour Town Alignment would deliver a vital piece of infrastructure to a community that is occupied by residential, manufacturing and retailing precincts at key locations along the transit system corridor. More enterprises and therefore more jobs to be serviced by the light rail system. That would potentially mean a higher patronage than the alignment proposed in the EOI.

The Parkwood Alignment is dominated by low-density urban residential zoning for the majority of the route. Despite this, the total population served by this alignment, without the need to use vehicles to park and ride, is much higher than the proposed routes.

From a land use planning perspective, both of the alternative alignments are arguably much better options despite the extra cost. Some of the extra costs for these alignments can be offset through zone and development changes that increase density, increased commercial opportunities and certainly through increased rates and infrastructure charges uptake. The draft planning scheme has seen some amendments such as these occur on the Stage One alignment. These planning opportunities need to be considered for whichever is the final approved and funded alignment.