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Sydney retailers face their second – and some their third – Christmas of disruption from construction of the $2.1 billion light rail line.
And, near the two-year anniversary of the start of construction, they fear the disruption along much of George Street in the CBD, and other parts of the line, will extend well into next year.
Construction on a stretch of George street between King and Market streets was originally due to be finished in August last year but retailers, such as cosmetic store Jurlique, doubt it will be finished in time for Christmas, their most important trading period of the year.
Jurlique manager Ellie Yu said pedestrian traffic outside her store had dropped significantly this year, hurting sales.
"This year was worse than 2016. I hope they finish soon – I hope it won't be affecting our fourth Christmas," she said.
Retailers say noise and dust continue to deter shoppers – especially tourists – from the well-known shopping strip.
The construction has forced some businesses on George Street, and along other parts of the 12-kilometre route from the CBD to Randwick and Kensington, to close or move. Many have seen revenue plunge over the past year.
The consortium building the line will not give definitive dates on when civil construction will be completed in the CBD or Surry Hills, other than to say it has finished the laying of track in seven of the 31 zones along the entire alignment.
Emanuel Tzirtzilakis says there is no end in sight to construction outside his Surry Hills cafe. Photo: Nick MoirBut the laying of track does not mean the civil construction in these zones has been totally completed, because work such as paving and kerbs is still needed in many.
Downtown Souvenirs, opposite the Queen Victoria Building, said revenue had fallen by up to 40 per cent since construction started on the zone outside its shop in late 2015.
Much of George Street is to remain a construction zone well into next year. Photo: Mick TsikasMartin & Stein, a jeweller in the QVB, said construction had segregated pedestrian traffic between the east and west sides of George Street.
The shop's owner, Annemie Stein, said she doubted construction would be completed outside the QVB this month despite the contractor's suggestions.
The construction zone outside the Queen Victoria Building on George Street. Photo: Mick Tsikas"We are into the second week of October already – there is no way [it will be finished]," she said on Wednesday.
In Surry Hills, Ouroboros Wholefoods Cafe owner Emanuel Tzirtzilakis said revenue had dropped at least 30 per cent over the past year at his business on Devonshire Street due to the construction, which included a deep pit outside his cafe.
"I call it the Grand Canyon. literally, because it is so deep and big," he said.
Noise and dust from the light rail site, and barricades on footpaths, have resulted in people avoiding Devonshire Street, which used to be a popular thoroughfare between Central Station and Crown Street.
Mr Tzirtzilakis said there was no end in sight to the construction, and contractors and transport officials could not tell him when it would be completed.
"They are just finding problem after problem after problem," he said. "The weekends used to be the busiest time of the week [for business] but now they are the quietest."
According to the government's original plans, major civil construction work along the entire route was due to be completed by next year, allowing testing to start two months later.
ALTRAC, the consortium that won the contract to build and operate the light rail, said major civil construction including utility work, drainage, excavation and track installation would be progressively completed across the CBD and Surry Hills next year.
"There have been significant challenges during light rail construction and we've been upfront about the fact work in many construction zones is taking longer than anticipated," it said.
"This has included the discovery of more than 1400 unknown utilities along the alignment."
ALTRAC said track had been laid in three zones in George Street and one in Surry Hills, and finishing works to complete paving and footpaths were underway.
Transport for NSW said it had "worked hard to maintain foot traffic and vibrancy around the construction areas", which included checking on businesses, ensuring they had information on works and delivering business signage and directories.
But City of Sydney councillor Angela Vithoulkas, who owns VIVO Cafe on George Street, said retailers simply wanted to know how long it would take to complete construction so that they could plan their businesses around it.
"It will be three bad Christmasses for me instead of one," she said. "There is still no end date in sight [to construction]."
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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