Going underground: Radical solution put forward to avoid northern Brisbane’s looming gridlock

Transport planners have returned to the idea of a multi-billion expansion of Brisbane’s road tunnel network amid warnings the city’s fast growing north faces complete gridlock within a decade.

Aug 09, 2022, updated Aug 09, 2022

A long awaited study into north Brisbane’s transport future has found that a northern suburbs transport corridor that was reserved 30 years ago is no longer fit for purpose, with “underground alternatives” now the preferred option to improve traffic flows.

It found the community would oppose any surface road to rail development along the North West Transport Corridor running between Alderley and Carseldine, partly because it was now a “significant biodiversity corridor”.

Instead, the federally-funded study, conducted by the Brisbane City Council, has urged that further work be done on building a motorway and rail line underground along the corridor’s alignment.

“Although adding significantly to the construction cost, a motorway, largely in-tunnel, provides the best opportunity to protect and enhance the NWTC for its value as an ecological asset for future generations,” a council report states.

A tunnel connecting Bald Hills to Kedron would cost between $9.5 billion and $14.1 billion, according to the council.

Artist impression of Gympie Road precinct with BRT. Supplied image.

Such a tunnel would be supported by extending the yet to be completed Brisbane Metro transit system along Gympie Rd, which would cost an extra $1.1 billion.

The council also considered a “longer-term option” of extending the underground motorway with an 11 km tunnel from McDowall to Toowong by 2041 to link up with the Legacy Way tunnel.

Despite the huge investment needed to build the tunnel, Brisbane City Council infrastructure chair Andrew Wines has urged the federal and state governments as well as Infrastructure Australia to seriously consider the proposal.

“We are eager to talk further with the State and Federal government about these proposals and hear about any other ideas they might have to deal with northern Brisbane’s transport needs,” he said.

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“This study shows the economic cost of north Brisbane’s congestion will be a staggering $1.5 million a day within a decade which is totally unacceptable.”

However, the proposal got short shrift from Transport Minister Mark Bailey, who described it as a “feeble fantasy for a $14 billion toll road with no funding, no consultation with other levels of government, and no idea how to fix congestion”.

“The state government had no input into the study that was funded by the former Morrison Government despite the state government owning the corridor which shows what a farce this announcement is,” he said in a statement

“The immediate focus should be on upgrading services on Gympie Road, which we are already doing through the $72 million Northern Transitway project which we are fully funding. The study entirely ignores that project.”

Congestion in northern Brisbane was already costing the local economy $312 million a year, according to the study, which warned that “network failure” would occur within a decade unless the network was improved.

“This study demonstrates that doing nothing isn’t an option,” Wines said.

“Brisbane is the fastest growing capital city in the country and our northern neighbours in Moreton Bay are also growing quickly.

Considered a future urban thoroughfare since the 1960s, the corridor was preserved in the early 1980s in expectation that it would one day become a four-lane, median-divided road to help share the traffic burden of the northern suburbs.

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