Gympie Arterial Road interchange upgrade impacting lifestyle, Brisbane residents say

Residents living in the shadow of a major road construction project on Brisbane’s north side are worried their concerns about flooding, dust exposure, and property access will be ignored once it is complete.

The $30 million Gympie Arterial Road diverging diamond interchange upgrade is the third of its kind in Australia and came with the promise of making the bustling B-double and commuter route “safer and more efficient”.

According to the Brisbane City Council’s 2019 Greater Brisbane Key Corridors report, more than 30,000 vehicles a day pass through the Strathpine Road intersection, which links the north-western industrial hub of Brendale with the Bruce Highway and Gateway Motorway.

The new intersection design reopened to traffic in April, but work at the site will continue until mid-2023.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) claimed the diverging diamond interchange would reduce impacts on nearby residents, but people living along its fringes say they have experienced significant lifestyle changes.

A map of a highway overpass marked with coloured lines to indicate the flow of traffic.
A TMR map showing how traffic flows through the new diverging diamond interchange at Bald Hills.(Supplied: Department of Transport and Main Roads)

Drainage issues

Jenny Christiansen and her husband, Neville, have lived at the corner of Strathpine Road and Bald Hills Road for 40 years.

They said they had never had a problem with the major project on their doorstep, but were disappointed with TMR’s response to problems they raised over the course of construction.

“We’re not asking them to not build the road, we’re just asking them to listen and respond with a bit of respect because, at times, I don’t think we’re respected at all,” Ms Christiansen said.

Muddy water covering grass behind a fence in a backyard.
Jenny Christiansen says during construction, stormwater flooded her yard and entered the lower level of her home.(Supplied: Jenny Christiansen)

Ms Christiansen said she was nearly in tears after stormwater submerged her backyard and entered the lower level of her home during a period of heavy rain in December last year.

“The massive amount of water we’ve had in our property since the development started has been horrendous,” she said.

“We’ve not had areas where we couldn’t see any grass on the property before.

“It was quite upsetting and distressing trying to get my point across that this is not working, you need to come out and look at this and work it out.”

A layer of light grey silt surrounding a chipboard TV cabinet on a concrete floor
Ms Christiansen is still dealing with her insurer after stormwater mixed with dust and silt from the nearby construction site.(Supplied: Jenny Christiansen)

She said drainage work done by contractor Fulton Hogan at the site since December had improved the situation, but she was still concerned about how changes to the landscape around her property would affect the flood risk in future wet seasons.

“We’re still getting a lot of rainwater runoff from the new slip road they’ve built, which we were advised wouldn’t happen,” she said.

Retirement plans in ruins

After nearly half a century working in the rail industry, Bryan Brindley was looking forward to buying into the great Australian dream of traversing the country in a caravan.

When he bought the property next to the Christiansens 35 years ago those dreams were well within his reach.

“I retired on the 31st of December 2021 with the intention of buying a caravan and travelling, or even buying a boat,” he said.

“Now with the way the road is I can’t get a boat or a caravan in, it’s impossible.”

An elderly man standing in front of brick homes with green highway sound barriers in the background.
Mr Brindley says he tried to call Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey three times to voice his concerns.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)

The intersection’s new sound barriers now extend across half of Mr Brindley’s property, leaving no room for him to reverse more than a car into his driveway.

He is also frustrated with the design of a Brisbane City Council-managed slip road and footpath snaking past his property, built to provide access to the homes on his street.

Mr Brindley said he tried to contact the Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, directly on three occasions to voice his concerns, but that a staffer told him the minister did not take phone calls.

“To me, it’s a bit of a kick in the guts because I thought the ministers were there to look after the people,” he said.

‘Like being in prison’

Bruce and Helen Carroll used to describe the land surrounding their property as a jungle.

Large clumps of grass and mature eucalyptus trees competed for space on an embankment behind timber sound barriers, making their corner of Strathpine Road next to the Bruce Highway on-ramp unusually lush.

An aerial Google Maps image of a cul-de-sac beside a highway.
The patch of green space at the end of Humrich Place was replaced with a service road and concrete sound barriers.(Supplied: Google Maps)

The couple’s children grew up playing sports on a triangular paddock of grass at the end of Humrich Place, a small cul-de-sac set back from Strathpine Road.

“We were told very little would change around here except we’d have a road going out there … but then all of a sudden they filled in the paddock,” Mr Carroll said.

The project has also taken a significant toll on Ms Carroll who, due to suffering from lung cancer, a serious heart condition and other health complications, spends most of her time inside the family home or sitting on her back deck.

An elderly couple standing in front of a blue steel fence with green highway sound barriers in the background.
Helen Carroll, pictured with husband Bruce, says the once-peaceful area now resembles a prison.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)

“They painted it [the sound barriers] green and have put some plants in but it’s like being in prison,” she said.

She also claimed construction workers onsite, whose toilet facilities were set up across the road from her backyard, frequently did not use the portaloos to relieve themselves.

“Some of the workers just dropped their pants outside the toilet and just did it there next to their toilet instead of going inside,” she said.

“They’d see me sitting there and they don’t care.”

TMR investigating environmental concerns

For more than a year, residents surrounding the project have endured sleepless nights due to noisy night works, increased congestion on small local roads, and a constant battle to keep construction dust at bay.

With the presence of construction crews slowly tapering off, residents said they did not know who to turn to for help resolving lingering concerns.

The Transport Noise Management Code of Practice sets out the limits for noise and dust a TMR project can subject surrounding households, businesses and critical infrastructure to, but compliance with the code is not mandatory.

Residents said even if the code was breached, they would not know where to find that information.

An elderly man with a mustache and thick-rimmed glasses holds a dirt-covered finger up.
Residents say they’ve been left to deal with a thick layer of construction dust coating their properties and vehicles.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)

Ms Christiansen said getting a response from anyone at TMR was “very difficult”, and repeated requests for copies of minutes taken at community meetings were denied.

“We have had a number of meetings as a community group, and some with just a couple of neighbours who’ve had things impact on them, where they’ve taken notes and information, and nobody has ever gotten back to us with any results,” she said.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”

In a statement, TMR said the project’s contractor was using dust gauges and on-site noise loggers to check compliance with Environmental Protection Act requirements and put in place mitigation measures to ensure temporary impacts were minimised.

“Current investigations into environmental concerns raised are ongoing and we will continue to work with the contractor and engage with residents about these concerns,” the spokesperson said. 

“Enquiries and complaints on the project have varied as construction progresses, but the amount is typical for a project of this complexity in an urban area close to residents.”

The spokesperson said heavy rainfall and flooding in Brisbane since late 2021 had impacted some nearby residents and resulted in minor delays.

Projects ‘damaging’ and ‘obsolete’

University of Queensland senior lecturer and urban planning expert Dorina Pojani said there was a wealth of research on the impacts of living next to major road infrastructure, including a study from Denmark published in medical journal The BMJ linking exposure to traffic noise with dementia.

Dr Pojani said disruption from construction was inevitable for residents living in growing cities like Brisbane, but leaders needed to shift their focus away from continually building and expanding roads.

“Change doesn’t always need to be so invasive and come in the form of both damaging and obsolete infrastructure,” she said.

A green road sign with arrows showing how to navigate through a new intersection.
TMR says the diverging diamond interchange was built to make the overpass safer and more efficient.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)

“It has been demonstrated over and over again that it doesn’t even resolve the problem of access.  

“Soon the roads become as clogged as before and then what do we do? Build more roads.” 

Dr Pojani said cities like Brisbane should invest in rail to ease congestion instead of expanding the state’s road network.

“That might sound too radical and a lot of people … they can’t conceive of a different reality because for as long as they’ve been alive Brisbane has had these big highways cutting through the city, but that’s not the only way to do urbanism.” 

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