Retailers on George Street in central Sydney will finally gain a reprieve from disruption caused by construction of the $2.1 billion light rail project within the next three months.
Civil construction on a stretch of George Street from the Queen Victoria Building to the intersection with King Street is scheduled to be finished by late October, about a year later than originally planned.
Completion of the laying of tracks, kerbs and other civil construction work will allow for barriers to be removed and the area to be made much more accessible for pedestrians.
About a third of the entire track – or four kilometres of line in both directions along the 12-kilometre route from Circular Quay in the CBD to Randwick and Kensington in the south-east – have now been laid.
Construction of the first of 19 tram stops – at Wansey Road beside Randwick Racecourse – is due to be finished within the next two months.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the construction team was now laying about 500 metres of track for the light rail each week.
“No major project, whether it’s this or any other, comes without its challenges,” she said.
“As the project progresses, and people see the track being laid and the progress being made … they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ms Berejiklian said the project was especially challenging in George Street because it was “so visual” and the main arterial route for the CBD.
“We are also seeing progress in the CBD, with cars returning to parts of George Street near Circular Quay where track has been installed, including paving laid between the rails,” she said.
Retailers on George Street and in Surry Hills and Kensington have complained that their revenue has tumbled since construction began.
The owners of The Book Kitchen closed their well-known cafe and restaurant permanently in May after almost eight years, blaming construction on Devonshire Street for a plunge in customers.
Labor’s transport spokeswoman, Jodi McKay, said the government should compensate businesses that had suffered falls in revenue of up to 60 per cent.
“Many of them are feeling left out in the cold and that their concerns are not being heard,” she said.
But Ms Berejiklian said foot traffic along George Street would “go through the roof” once the light rail project was completed, due partly to thousands of people catching trams.
“We are supporting businesses during the construction process but we know, once the project is over, they are going to enjoy so much more business than what they used to because of the extra foot traffic,” she said.
Glenn Bentley, the chief executive of the ALTRAC consortium building the line, said his team was aware of the need for civil construction along sections of George Street to be completed before the busy Christmas period.
“Retailers have been very patient with us,” he said. “Where there is a stop, like at QVB, there will be a hoarding around the stop. But large areas will have barriers removed.”
Mr Bentley said the discovery of about 1100 underground utilities cables had presented a major challenge because workers had to assume they were live before they could be handled.
“They will continue to be a challenge until we actually deal with our last service,” he said.