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Government still keen on interchange upgrade despite setback as transport group pushes rail remedy

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The state government says a proposed overhaul of one of the Sunshine Coast’s busiest interchanges is still high on its agenda but it can’t say how, when or even if it will be completed.

Plans for Stage 1 of the Mooloolah River Interchange Upgrade were cast into disarray in November, when the federal government announced it would essentially withdraw a $160 million commitment towards it.

The decision came after early works were undertaken and properties were marked for resumption.

It left a large part of the region’s road transport future in limbo, ahead of a population boom and the 2032 Olympic Games.

The $320 million project was initially expected to be funded 50:50 by the state and federal governments.

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A Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said the state government had not given up on the proposal but it did not know how it would be paid for.

“While the Mooloolah River Interchange Upgrade (Stage 1) remains a priority for the Queensland Government, project cost and funding contributions for Stage 1 are subject to further consideration and negotiation,” they said.

The MRIU was expected to ease traffic congestion and provide more efficient travel to and from the heart of the Sunshine Coast.

The plans for the MRIU.

A spokesperson for transport advocacy group Rail Back on Track, Jeff Addison, said traffic woes could be significantly alleviated if planned rail projects were fully funded and completed in a timely manner.

He said it was a shame that plans for the MRIU ground to a halt after works had started and it could lead to “more gridlock and commute times”.

But he believed projects like the Direct Rail Sunshine Coast Line and the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade were more pressing.

He said they required more funding and works, and he said they would take the pressure off the road network.

An artist’s impression of a new station on the Direct Sunshine Coast Rail Line.

“It is always disappointing when funding is withdrawn from any projects on the burgeoning Sunshine Coast, especially when part-way through active site works and building demolitions upon prior resumed properties,” he said.

“But as a rail and public transport advocacy group, our focus is on the lack of rail and the abysmal rail services to the region.

“Clearly, given that it (the MRIU) had $320 million joint state and federal funding, it was needed.

“Our preference is for the much-needed and prior-promised 37km rail from Beerwah to Maroochydore (DSCRL) to be built as soon as possible as a first priority.”

Related story: Government slammed for slow progress on rail line

He said the state government had a “topsy-turvy approach”, favouring road over rail.

“That mindset has to change,” he said.

The planned direct rail route, in green.

“We need to do the rail first and then assess the roads situation, not the other way around.

“After proper rail is installed and provided with adequate services, then, and only then, assess the road transport issues – should they arise.

“If the rail is provided with appropriate frequency, speed of travel better than vehicular traffic and bus feeder services to/from rail stations, then we see the roads issues being significantly ameliorated.”

The federal government has $1.6 billion on the table for the DSCRL, but is reviewing the project amid fears of a cost blowout, while the state government has committed just $14 million towards planning. The B2N rail upgrade is underway, with works on associated roadways and car parks built.

Meanwhile, the state government said the planned Nicklin Way – Third Avenue extension at Caloundra was also still being considered, after the federal government withdrew $7 million in funding for it.

“Project cost and funding contributions are subject to further consideration and negotiation,” a TMR spokesperson said.

The extension was to be part of the Caloundra Transport Corridor Upgrade.

Section one of the CTCU (Omrah Avenue to Arthur Street) is funded by Sunshine Coast Council.

“The Department of Transport and Main Roads and SCC remain committed to delivering this important upgrade,” the spokesperson said.

“The project team will continue to finalise the design for the project taking into consideration key project delivery objectives, active transport pathway locations, landscaping and environmental requirements within available funding. Design is expected to be completed in mid-2024.”

Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said late last year that federal government funding commitments for the MRIU and the Nicklin Way – Third Avenue projects would be withdrawn, after a review of the infrastructure pipeline revealed many projects that were committed by the previous government did not represent value for money.

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