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What lies beneath: The hidden works that are set to transform Brisbane

Insights

The tunnelling machines have started beneath the old Roma Street train and bus station. What will rise up once Cross River Rail is complete in 2024? Sean Parnell reports

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On a day when Queensland’s unemployment rate for April was confirmed at 6.8 per cent and rising, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk led key ministers to a Roma Street worksite that is part of the government’s $5.4 billion Cross River Rail project.

Their message, delivered in hardhats and high-vis vests, was simple: the Labor government was focussed on jobs, and Cross River Rail alone was expected to create more than 7000 of them.

“This is just the beginning of the underground works, with 5.9km of twin tunnels and four underground stations to be excavated in total,” Palaszczuk told journalists on Thursday.

The Government, councils and various Queensland organisations have proposed other infrastructure projects, all over the state, for federal funding to fast-track efforts to stimulate the economy. Decisions on that front are imminent.

However, the economic crisis has put a cloud over the nature, and level, of any private co-investment. Roma Street is still seen as a jewel in the crown of Cross River Rail – the site is informally referred to as Brisbane’s Grand Central – and any buildings will certainly look better than the tired black boxes now being torn down. Yet there are little more than artists’ impressions at this stage and even they are only indicative.

Entertainment guru Harvey Lister has been pushing for a new venue, Brisbane Live, at Roma Street – a precinct flanked by Suncorp Stadium, South Bank and the CBD. An Auditor-General’s report was last week critical of some of the numbers, yet it remains under government consideration and the clincher could be its role as a tourist and consumer drawcard. The question is when, and how, live music and events resume.

Residential towers – with city, river and garden views – are likely, but will again depend on the economic climate once the pandemic and associated restrictions have eased. The central location might also suit a university, with students and staff taking advantage of the unparalleled public transport connectivity, with trains, buses and the Brisbane Metro.

“Griffith University is considering its options in the Brisbane CBD for a high-rise campus,” a spokesman said.

“The university is also taking into account its financial constraints due to coronavirus pandemic.”

Cross River Rail Minister Kate Jones remains confident the mammoth infrastructure project will help revitalise several station precincts, including Roma Street.

“Coronavirus has had a huge impact on our economy but we won’t let it derail Queensland’s largest infrastructure project,” Jones said.

“We’re not only building a new train station and digging tunnels, Cross River Rail will also generate billions of dollars of new private sector investment in the city as we redesign the precinct around the new station.”

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