Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Coordinator-General gives go-ahead for Wooloowin Airport Link shaft

Queensland’s Coordinator-General Colin Jensen has approved the building of a $35 million controversial shaft in Wooloowin to ensure the $5.6 billion Airport Link tunnel is completed on time. Jensen’s decision was in response to a change request to address potential adverse impacts of the Wooloowin tunnel worksite. The decision means that tunnel builder Brisconnections can begin construction of a shaft 15m in diameter and 42m deep on vacant land at the corner of Kent and Rose streets, Wooloowin. (photo of Airport Link Kedron worksite by Derek Barry)

The problem arose when difficult ground conditions around the Kedron underground ramps meant extra work to construct more complex tunnel support. Without the change the Kedron caverns providing for the ramp connections with the mainline tunnels under Wooloowin would not be built in time to receive the Tunnel Boring Machines progressing westwards from Clayfield. Brisconnection’s solution was for a 29-month-long worksite to be built at Rose St complete with a large acoustic workshed, a shaft and access passage and a fitout of the tunnels when they have been constructed.

Brisconnections provided the change request to the Coordinator-General on 17 July which resulted in 163 public submissions. The main issues that arose from the submissions were: the change reason wasn’t abundantly clear, concerns about traffic and transport impacts, concerns about large trucks, environmental and social effects, and decommissioning and rehabilitation.

These concerns were also noted by community action groups. In his response Jensen noted three major potential impacts: construction impacts, spoil haulage (construction traffic), and visual pollution from structures such as the acoustic shed. Jensen recommended the worksite time be minimised, form a community consultation committee, immediate rehabilitation of the site, community development and management plans, a complaints resolution process and half-yearly independent audits.

Brisconnections won the bid to build the controversial tunnel in May 2008. The win also entitles them to operate the tolled tunnel for a 45 year concession period. Brisconnections is a consortium of Macquarie Capital Group, Thiess, and John Holland. The latter two are both being independent subsidiaries of Leighton Holdings Group and are jointly responsible for project design and construction. The Coordinator-General approved the initial project in July 2008. There will be two parallel north-south tunnels linking East-West arterial road at Toombul with the Inner City Bypass at Bowen Hills with an exit at Kedron linking Gympie and Stafford Roads.

In evaluating the justification of the Wooloowin change request, Jensen considered three factors: a) other alternatives, b) cost-benefit analysis and c) management of adverse impacts. Jensen sought advice from independent expert Graeme Peck of GM Peck and Associates. Peck told Jensen that the request was the only “reasonable probability” of ensuring the project met the original completion of June 2012. “This means that the benefits of the project to the Brisbane traffic network and hence the community as a whole will be available when expected," Peck said. Jensen noted that all other alternatives would have delayed the project by eight months.

According to Jensen there were “no better feasible alternative(s)”. On the second point he noted the benefits of congestion improvement, employment opportunities and community benefit versus the impact of delay to the project if the change request did not go ahead. He said it was “reasonable to assume” that the benefit would outweigh the $35m estimated cost. He then addressed the mitigation concerns acknowledging there would be negative impact as a result of the new worksite.

Jensen said that local business ambience and customer comfort would suffer due to increased dust, noise and vibration. He recommended a one-way construction traffic route to minimize spoils and haulage impacts and vehicle monitoring to ensure the route was being followed. He also banned haulage vehicle queuing near “sensitive” places including residences. All site workers would arrive via shuttle buses from the existing Kedron worksite. Jensen also placed conditions on the acoustic barrier for noise mitigation and all generators and associated equipment must be enclosed. The report also made recommendations in the area of dust, air quality, groundwater, contaminated lands, and flora and fauna.

A local residents' action group was disappointed with Jensen’s findings. Kalinga Wooloowin Residents Group response coordinator Brian Nally said the work site will destroy their community and force them to endure constant noise, dust and traffic from the shaft's construction. "They are claiming that they are doing this to stop the negative effects on the community at Kedron and Toombul,” he said. “We have shown that there are bigger effects on the communities of Kalinga and Wooloowin with this site." However Infrastructure Minister Stirling Hinchliffe welcomed the findings. "While I understand some sections of the community may not welcome the Coordinator-General's decision - I believe it's necessary to ensure the project is delivered on time,” he said. “[It] will mitigate prolonged impacts for the wider community."

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