The 4.6km road project would link the end of the existing Ellerton Drive in East Queanbeyan to the Edwin Land Parkway at Old Cooma Rd.
It would have a footprint of 25ha, ranging between 40 to 110 metres wide, and accommodate four lanes and a cycleway. Initially, two lanes would be constructed.
Because of the steep slopes and gullies on the Queanbeyan Escarpment, the road would involve substantial earthworks as well as a bridge 180 metres long and six metres high across the Queanbeyan River at Barracks Flat.
Council says the city needs the road to accommodate more vehicles as population grows with new town developments. This is based on the Googong and Tralee Traffic Study that Council adopted in 2010 which projected a year 2031 population of 68,970 people living in 25,956 households, each with 1.8 vehicles (46,880 in total). That traffic study assumed no increase in the proportion of journeys undertaken by other means, such as public transport, cycling, walking or even car sharing, and did not explore the potential to reduce private car journeys.
Council’s latest population projection for the year 2031 is 56,000 people (based on the Year 2011 Census and contained in the 2014-15 budget papers). That’s a drop of almost 20 per cent and a reduction in vehicles of 30 per cent using the same formula as the traffic study. These latest projections call into question the study’s conclusions about traffic volumes and the need for the EDE.
The EDE was conceived 40 years ago and is no longer a sensible or economically viable project.
In 2009 a single carriage way was estimated to cost almost $44 million. In May 2013, Mayor Tim Overall told an ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry into regional development that the cost was between $44 million and $50 million. He later told the Queanbeyan Age that the cost was between $35 million and $55 million (reported 21 June 2013). Council advised via the Public Forum in June 2014 that it would have a better idea of the final cost when design work is completed, later in 2014.
Council told the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal it would need to borrow $11 million to fund the road (IPART SRV Determination 2012), which could push up council rates.
Council needs NSW and Australian government funding to build the EDE, with contributions from developers to be paid many years into the future. In February 2013, Council raised the idea of asking the Australian Government for a $40 million, interest-free loan but nothing eventuated.
In June 2014, the NSW and Australian governments announced they would each contribute $25 million towards the cost of the road.
The most recent cost estimate for the EDE is $75 million, set out in the documents Queanbeyan City Council released for public comment in late 2014.
Council decided in November 2014 to apply for a $10 million federal government grant to top up the $50 million of public funds already earmarked for the EDE. Council would be required to match the grant but at the time, no information was provided about the source of a matching component.
In December 2014, councillors considered a recommendation to borrow $15 million – $25 million to loan the Googong developers who will have 20 years to repay the sum, plus interest. The loan amount could be higher, depending on the final cost of the road. Again, there was little detail about the arrangements for a proposed loan. Councillors deferred a decision pending receipt of more information. It is understood that councillors will consider this matter again at an Extraordinary Meeting on 17 June but this is yet to be confirmed.
The cost estimate to build the proposed EDE has risen further in recent months and at April 2015 stood at $90 million, however in draft budget papers for 2015-16, Council states: “The final cost of the road and funding arrangements have not yet been finalised by Queanbeyan City Council.”
Regardless of the funding source, this is a poor investment being considered in isolation from regional roads planning which includes development on Queanbeyan’s western and northern borders. Better coordination is needed between Council and the NSW and ACT governments to spend funds wisely, to minimise the environmental impact of roads and to invest in better public transport and cycling facilities.