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Major interchange project hits the brakes after series of setbacks

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Plans for a key interchange upgrade appear to have been ditched, after the state government confirmed the project can’t be delivered without the backing of the federal government.

The proposed Sunshine Motorway, Mooloolah River Interchange Upgrade (Stage 1) was cast into doubt in November, when the federal government withdrew a $160 million commitment after an infrastructure review.

Then this month, the Department of Transport and Main Roads told Sunshine Coast News the project would cost almost $750 million, instead of $320 million.

A TMR spokesperson said the proposal had basically hit a brick wall.

“While the MRI Upgrade project remains a priority for the Queensland Government, it cannot be delivered without federal support,” the spokesperson said.

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“(But) the Queensland Government continues to invest heavily in important transport projects in the growing Sunshine Coast region, including Bruce Highway upgrades, the Beerburrum to Nambour rail line and the Bells Creek Arterial Road.”

Plans for the MRIU project have been plagued by troubles for months.

Concerns were raised about the proposed route and then the federal government withdrew its support, stating that it did not represent value for money.

That came after the acquisition of properties and the start of early works.

The state government told Sunshine Coast News last month that it was still committed to the project, but they could not say how it could be paid for or when work could be done.

But then TMR told SCN there was a revised cost of $743.6 million, which represents a 132 per cent increase.

The interchange seems to have reached a stop sign. Picture: TMR/YouTube

“Since preparation of the project’s business case and cost estimate in 2020, significant labour and materials cost escalations and unprecedented property market conditions in the Sunshine Coast region have impacted the project budget,” the spokesperson said.

The department said it had acquired 84 residential properties for Stage 1, after stating last year that 132 homes had been purchased as part of the project since planning started in 2007.

Resumptions are on now essentially on hold, but TMR continues to offer acquisitions to eligible property holders.

“(TMR) is not actively resuming residential properties required for future stages of the MRI Upgrade,” the spokesperson said.

“However, early acquisition is available to eligible property owners whose properties have been identified as Protected Planning (Category C) in accordance with TMR’s Approved Planning Policy.”

“Land acquired for the MRI project will be retained for future upgrades, including the Sunshine Coast Direct rail line.”

MP Fiona Simpson and Mooloolaba Chamber executive Brett Thompson discuss the project, which now appears to be abandoned.

The state MP for Maroochydore, LNP’s Fiona Simpson, said she could not understand why costs had more than doubled after an advanced business case study and initial costings.

“Is the minister (Bart Mellish) seriously expecting people accept his explanation that a 100 per cent (plus) cost blowout is nothing unusual and part of normal market escalations?” she said.

“This is just not good enough.

“The people of the Sunshine Coast deserve to know how a much-needed project is in jeopardy due to a $400 million cost blow-out.

“This project was subject to a P-90 business case, which means it was supposed to be 90 per cent accurate costing.

“Does the minister believe that the passage of two to three years (since initial costings) causes a 100 per cent cost blowout and no one will question that?

“There’s … still no commitment from the Labor Government as to what they’re going to do to fix this congestion point and when.”

The upgraded interchange was intended to address a rapid growth in population on the Sunshine Coast.

It’s a key junction connecting several major centres in the region and it was slated to link with other proposed transport projects, including a heavy rail line from Beerwah to Maroochydore.

The design plans for the junction.

The project webpage says detailed design is still underway and the project was set to “provide new north-south connectivity between key residential, employment, health and education facilities to support population, economic and tourism growth in one of Australia’s fastest-growing regions”.

“It is also the key to unlocking several significant road and rail projects in the region and is the trigger for major infrastructure transformation on the Sunshine Coast.”

Stage 1 of the project was set to include a new road overpass to provide a more direct and efficient connection from Nicklin Way to Brisbane Road at Mooloolaba; a new local road connection between Karawatha Drive at Mountain Creek and Brisbane Road at Mooloolaba; new active transport provisions for pedestrians and bike riders, connecting Mountain Creek and Mooloolaba; and a new signalised intersection linking Brisbane Road and the new connection to Karawatha Drive, and provision of a two-way service road.

Future stages were set to include a new crossing of the Mooloolah River, connecting the Sunshine Motorway to Kawana Way; the Mooloolah River Interchange, with connections to the Sunshine Motorway to the west and north, Nicklin Way to the south-east, and Kawana Way to the south; an upgrade of the Sunshine Motorway from two to four lanes between the existing Kawana Way Interchange and the Mooloolah River Interchange; a direct, safe and efficient connection for the Sunshine Motorway, north to west; an additional northbound lane on the Sunshine Motorway between the Mooloolah River Interchange and the Buderim-Mooloolaba interchange; a new active transport provisions for pedestrian and bike riders, linking Parrearra, Mountain Creek and Mooloolaba; and a new signalised intersection linking the new crossing of the Mooloolah River with Kawana Way.

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