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Townsville’s construction scene has strong momentum as it hits the coronavirus challenge, according to local economist Colin Dwyer.

Mr Dwyer, from DS Economics, said activity was considerably stronger now than a year ago and he counts about $2.9 billion worth of work on the list he compiles of significant local projects either underway or likely to begin within two years.

“I drove past the Haughton bridge project (last week) and it was full steam ahead – there were three cranes erected before the start of the bridge and a mobile crane,” he said.

“I lost count of the number of trucks – there would have been 20 trucks and two water trucks and 4WDs all over the place.”

The $514.3 million Haughton River Floodplain Upgrade project, due for completion in mid-2021, is among $1.38 billion of current or imminent transport projects Mr Dwyer lists in the local area.

He said The Strand was also a construction hotspot – with work continuing on The Seaview Hotel redevelopment, the Anelay unit development, Tobruk Memorial Baths upgrade and the new St Patrick’s College performing arts and learning precinct.

The ongoing work on such projects was extremely important in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and the way it had shut down many areas of business activity, he said.

“It means a lot of people getting an income, but they are also projects transforming Townsville and adding optimism and momentum to the Townsville economy,” Mr Dwyer said.

“Unfortunately the COVID-19 situation has stalled that momentum, but hopefully when we get on the other side of that well be able to pick it up quite quickly.”

In contrast, back in 2016 the city was seeing the flow-on effects of having the Yabulu nickel refinery closed, he said.

“Now we’re talking about Genex (hydro project), we’re talking about the airport upgrade widening the shipping channel, the Singapore Defence (Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative)project  – it’s a completely different attitude and momentum has changed since 2013-16,” he said.

The significant construction projects are an important buffer as the COVID-19 crisis takes a widespread toll on jobs.

Mr Dwyer said the Townsville region had added more than 15,000 jobs to its workforce in the past three years, but unemployment remained ‘sticky’ and too high.

Initial forecasts indicated Townsville regional unemployment may quickly get to more than 14 per cent as a result of the pandemic – worse than 2016-17, he said.

“But hopefully the impact of CV-19 is better offset by better targeted public sector support and we spend it in local businesses.”

Strong construction scene in Townsville as COVID-19 hits