Brisbanites get to name their tunnels – but that doesn’t mean they like them

The city’s newly-named infrastructure project could be an underground success. AAP Image/John Pryke

The superhero jokes started straight away. mX — the local public transport throwaway — opened its coverage of Brisbane’s newly-named BaT (Bus and Train) Tunnel with:

Na na na na na na na na BaT Tunnel!

Over at, a wit ran an image of Premier Campbell Newman photoshopped as Batman and Treasurer Tim Nicholls as Robin.

Oddly, Newman’s jaw does bear a passing resemblance to that of 1960s caped crusader Adam West.

Batman, Adam West, and Robin, Burt Ward. Chris

The denizens of Brisbane have been mildly entertained for weeks by a competition to name the planned – but still unfunded – underground transport tunnel.

The tunnel will run for 5km beneath the Brisbane CBD and the Brisbane River and act as a transit route for both buses and trains. From Dutton Park in the city’s south to Spring Hill in the north, spruikers of the tunnel – which now has a name, if not a funding stream – promise it will alleviate shortcomings in the city’s public transport systems. The construction phase is pencilled in to end in 2020.

Nearly 1,000 suggested names for the new tunnel were thrown up by the community, but the government reserved the right to choose between them.

A name for every road and bridge

Public infrastructure projects and their names have become a delicate matter in the past decade as many projects have fallen short of their usage targets or cost way more than expected.

The competition for the name of the new tunnel followed a similar exercise in 2010 to name what eventually became the Go Between Bridge over the Milton reach of the river. The bridge celebrates the local 1980s band of almost the same name, The Go-Betweens. As singer Robert Forster noted at the time:

I think that we got nine letters. And we lost the “s”. We couldn’t get all 10. But I think I speak on behalf of the band: we’re happy with nine.

In 2010 then Lord Mayor of Brisbane Campbell Newman left the final name up to a public poll.

Brisbane’s The Go-Betweens – always ready to take it to the bridge. EMI Music/AAP Image

In 2014 Newman, now Premier of Queensland, was not so laissez-faire. There were guidelines, including that it be no more that five words, not be an acronym, and that it must speak to the purpose of the tunnel.

The long list was splendid – some suggestions captured local pre-occupations: Allan Border Cover Drive; the Wally Lewis Way; and the Bee Gees Tunnel.

Others captured more conventional local historical connections: the Thomas Petrie Tunnel (Petrie was a local grazier who had early contact with local Indigenous people); Edenglassie Tunnel (Edenglassie was the original name for the settlement that became the city); and the Parsons, Pamphlet and Finnegan Tunnel (a castaway and two local convicts who marooned in Moreton Bay in the 1820s).

The chosen title seemed in fact to be in breach of the guidelines precluding acronyms – but heck, BaT Tunnel was better than GoZunda, or Brisway Tunnel, or many other claimants.

Hope then disappointment

If the naming competition was a PR exercise, it hasn’t fully distracted the city from the continuing debate about the success or failure of major infrastructure projects in south-east Queensland over the past decade and a half.

In that time, as the population in the south-east corner boomed, the Brisbane River got five new bridges: the Go-Between, the Eleanor Schonell, the Kurilpa, the Goodwill, and the duplication of the Sir Leo Hielscher (Gateway Bridge).

The city has also completed or has underway several massive tunnel and roadway projects: the Inner CityBypass (completed in 2002), the Busways system (completed in 2011), the Clem Jones Tunnel (completed 2010), Airport Link (completed 2012), and the Legacy Way that is still under construction.

A 4,000-tonne, $50 million boring machine drilling through the final layers of rock at Woolloongabba in Brisbane in 2009 to create the Clem7 Tunnel. AAP Image/David Barbeler

Campbell Newman, as Lord Mayor and now as Premier, is particularly identified with these projects.

His 2002 TransApex plan detailed five tunnels to transform what had become the difficult and laborious task of crossing the city from almost any direction. The plan was immediately controversial but Newman’s promises to help solve Brisbane’s traffic problems helped him get elected Mayor in 2004.

Four out of the five tunnels are now delivered or underway. The fifth, the East-West Link, from Toowong to the Pacific Freeway at Buranda seems consigned to history.

Somewhat quixotically, Newman has pursued these high cost projects while at the same time stripping funds out of other city and state government projects. His has been an engineer’s view of the city and of development.

Workmen cheer after a bore machine breaks through the last wall of rock to create the first tunnel under the Brisbane, on Dec. 7, 2008. AAP Image/Petrina Berr

But as with Mexico City in the 1960s – which looked to a world-leading highway system to transform the nation – things haven’t been so straightforward.

Two of the public-private partnership (PPP) projects, the Clem7 and the Airport Link, have ended in bankruptcy and class action – as both the financing structure and the estimates of likely usage have been unrealistic. Successive state Labor governments and their former ministers have been implicated in poor structuring of these projects.

It is now much quicker – and much more expensive – to traverse the city. Taking the Clem7 and the Airport link together from the southside to the airport on the north is startlingly fast – saving 15 minutes of time in traffic – but costs nearly A$10 by car.

Patronage targets have never been met. The projected number of vehicles never travelled through the Clem7. According to The Australian, it was forecast that the Airport Link would carry 179,000 vehicles a day but by 2013 was only carrying 47,000 a day.

In many senses – not least because of the tolls that discourage their full use – they have not been embraced by the city.

Within the community there is an overwhelming sense of being duped and of infrastructure opportunities missed. The winners seem to have been the financiers, the political classes, and those close to government delivering the projects.

It seems unlikely that the multi-billion dollar BaT Tunnel project will bring any actual super heroes to the rescue.

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