Bridging the millionaire's gap

WHAT do you give the ultra rich Gold Coaster who has everything?

His own bridge, of course.

Billabong founder Gordon Merchant is now well and truly living the high life, with his own $1-million private driveway across the newly opened Tugun bypass thanks to Queensland's Main Roads department.

Every day about 40,000 motorists pass under the multi-millionaire's access, dubbed "Billabong Bridge", which towers over the Pacific Motorway.

Kirra real estate agent David Stringer, principal of David Stringer Real Estate, said he had never seen a driveway like it.

"I've been selling real estate for 20 years and I've never seen this before," Mr Stringer said.

Mr Stringer said he had originally thought the access was a pedestrian bridge and was surprised to discover otherwise.

He said he had never encountered another property with its own access bridge over a motorway.

The single-lane driveway starts on Kitchener Street, running behind houses and the John Flynn Private Hospital for about a kilometre.

Mr Stringer said the bridge would definitely add to the property's value -- not that Mr Merchant needs it.

The 64-year-old surf brand founder has an estimated worth of $805 million.

According to the BRW 2008 rich list, Mr Merchant is the second richest man on the Gold Coast and eighth richest in Queensland at the moment.

He is also listed as the 40th richest person in Australia and New Zealand as reported in this year's Forbes list.

A spokesman for Main Roads yesterday said while the million-dollar bridge may seem extravagant, it was the cheapest option.

The spokesman said it was cheaper to build the overpass than to resume Mr Merchant's valuable real estate, which covers 13ha.

Without the bridge, Mr Merchant would have been cut off from his home by the bypass.

The spokesman said the bridge was the "only reasonable option".

"The alternative option to ensure access to these properties would have required the resumption of land, costing significantly more than the bridge.

"With any road project, Main Roads has a responsibility to ensure people's access to their properties is maintained."

Building the bridge was no easy feat.

It was first laid on solid ground on a ridge, which was then excavated.

Billabong Bridge now towers a steep 25m over the bypass.

Some of Mr Merchant's neighbours, who asked not to be named when approached by the Tweed Daily News, yesterday said they rarely saw the multi-millionaire at home.

One resident said she was delighted to have Mr Merchant as her neighbour and said he always waved when in the area.

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