15 August 2020

Barr urges PM to walk infrastructure talk and fast-track light rail stage 2

| Ian Bushnell
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An artist's impression of the Commonwealth Park stop

An artist’s impression of the Commonwealth Park stop. It will have grass tracks. Image: ACT Government.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has urged the Commonwealth to speed up the approvals process for major infrastructure projects such as light rail stage 2 by reforming its environmental legislation and hiring more staff to assess applications.

Mr Barr made his comments when announcing that the ACT Government had moved to the next stage of the approvals process for light rail stage 2A to Commonwealth Park by responding to the Preliminary Documentation requirements under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The public now has until 14 September to comment on the documents.

The government still hopes that construction on stage 2A can begin next year and that the approvals for the more complex stage 2B can be completed in the next 18 months, but it won’t be releasing the 2A cost or signing any contracts before the election.

Mr Barr said the both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, in line with Reserve Bank advice, were urging states and territories to borrow for major infrastructure projects but the ACT’s experience of having to deal with up to four levels of approval for light rail was a case study of the problems of getting projects off the ground.

He singled out the EPBC process, which has been under review, as ripe for change.

”The timeframes associated with moving a large piece of infrastructure through this legislation can indeed be a frustration for proponents, which is something we have experienced in recent months and years,” Mr Barr said.

He said the relevant Commonwealth agencies, such as the National Capital Authority, also needed more staff to ”process and work through the important detail, of not just this project but countless others around the nation”.

Transport Minister Chris Steel and Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Moving ahead: Transport Minister Chris Steel and Chief Minister Andrew Barr at the corner of Edinburgh Avenue and London Circuit in New Acton near where light rail will run. Photo: Ian Bushnell

Mr Barr said he wasn’t suggesting that there should not be due diligence, particularly in the Parliamentary Triangle where there are serious heritage matters, but that things were taking too long.

He said that the ACT had put to the Commonwealth that only two levels of approval were needed – the NCA and the ACT’s own planning processes.

”There could be a way of streamlining this process in terms of the number of agencies with fingers in the pie,” Mr Barr said. ”That’s a sensible reform that needs to be talked about.”

Mr Barr also flagged further infrastructure announcements in the economic and fiscal update in two weeks, in a clear pitch to voters that Labor was the party of progress and getting things done.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said the government’s 2A response reveals that the wireless, 1.7 km extension to Commonwealth Park now won’t require an electricity sub-station to be built and that the Commonwealth Avenue section will have grass tracks.

There will also be a range of traffic changes including no right turn movements on to London Circuit to enable a right of way for light rail to proceed efficiently through the corridor.

The extension of Edinburgh Avenue to Vernon Circle was also nearly complete and will provide another way to move through the city both during the construction of Stage 2 but also afterwards, Mr Steel said.

The main environmental concern involves Golden Sun Moth habitat, which will be dealt with through offsets and research project.

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) has welcomed the release of the preliminary EPBC documentation for the City to Commonwealth Park light rail extension, saying it was an important milestone in the journey towards bringing the network south to Woden, then onwards to Tuggeranong.

“We commend the ACT Government for their careful consideration of the broader environmental and heritage impacts of bringing light rail through Canberra’s city centre,” said PTCBR Chair Ryan Hemsley.

“This is evident in the adoption of wire-free technology and grassed tracks along Commonwealth Avenue, which significantly reduces the route’s visual impact and preserves the important Parliament House heritage vista.”

Mr Hemsley said he looked forward to the awarding of contracts and commencement of works between the City and Commonwealth Park.

“By extending Canberra’s light rail network, we can deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for Canberra’s construction industry, with the double benefit of providing improved public transport options in the longer term.”

To view the Light Rail Stage 2A Preliminary Documentation go to Your Say.

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Leon Arundell5:17 pm 20 Aug 20

If the Barr government is serious about reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse emissions, it will convert Canberra’s under-used bus lanes to T2 or T3 transit lanes.
After population growth, our biggest cause of increasing traffic congestion is the number of car passengers who are switching to driving themselves. This year the Government has shut down “3 for free” parking spaces and converted part of Canberra’s only transit lanes – the largely ineffective T2 lanes along Adelaide Avenue – to a general traffic lane.
Providing some new transit lanes – for the mere cost of a few road signs – would help to encourage people back into passenger seats.

That’s a good idea Leon. it’s important to remember that there’s no one silver bullet to magically improve a city. Having more occupants per car is a low hanging fruit and should certainly be exploited as part of a larger plan.

Capital Retro9:16 am 19 Aug 20

How often do you use the tram, Julie Macklin?

HiddenDragon7:51 pm 15 Aug 20

“The main environmental concern involves Golden Sun Moth habitat, which will be dealt with through offsets and research project.”

Jobkeeper payments for moths with less inconveniently located habitats?

Any prospect of federal financial support for the southside extension will presumably still stumble on cost-benefit evaluation by Infrastructure Australia – these comments from Morrison’s press conference on 14 August seem relevant –

“But it is not a blank cheque. It is not a licence to make whoopee with taxpayer’s funds. That is not what that is. The projects have got to be good projects. The spending must always be good spending. Spending always must adhere to the principles of fiscal responsibility. “

Stephen Saunders7:00 am 15 Aug 20

When Sussan Ley talks of “streamlining” environmental approvals to a “single touch”, she means fossil-fuel projects for miner-donors, not overdue transit upgrades for a despised “bubble” of Labor voters.

Capital Retro10:05 am 15 Aug 20

How can you describe the plan to replace the existing very fast and efficient buses from city to Woden with slower trams as a “transit upgrade”? Like Stage 1 of the tram service it is not needed.

And nothing wrong with a “fossil-fuel project” either considering China is doing hundreds of them. Do you want Australia to become like Venezuela?

It’s laughable for the ACT government to keep promoting this project despite all the evidence showing them it isn’t viable.

What do they call someone who keeps making the same mistake over and over again?

“What do they call someone who keeps making the same mistake over and over again?” Canberra Liberals.

Capital Retro7:15 pm 15 Aug 20

A slow learner?

So we agree, the local ALP and Liberals are both woeful.

The only difference being that the ALP are in charge and still continuing to waste money on unviable projects.

“So we agree….” nah , think you’re in furious agreement with yourself on that one Chewy14.

Except the local ALP has shown itself to continue to make the same mistakes time and time again.

But apparently you think they’re different.

Must be fun sometimes to outsource your opinion.

Trying to translate your comment, it’s a bit muddled. Your opinion appears to be that the ACT Labor party makes repeated mistakes. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. However you then claim that this is also my opinion. That’s a very confused approach. I never actually said that so probably best that you just speak on behalf of your own opinions.

No it’s quite clear.

This article is about an area in which the local ALP has made and seemingly wants to continue to make repeated mistakes.

It isnt an opinion, it’s an evidence based position that only someone who doesn’t understand or value good infrastructure planning could oppose.

Yet you somehow tried to make it about the Liberals.

Whilst i’m quite happy to say that the local Liberal party is woeful, it’s strange that you seem to have selective blindness in this area when it comes to the local ALP.

Maybe you’ve got some rust in one eye, I’d get it checked out if i were you.

You may not have picked up on the earlier comment, which was a light-hearted reference to the Canberra Liberals constantly putting forward conservative, rather than liberal, candidates in an area known to be progressive. As to your ‘evidence base’ against light rail, most Canberrans and, indeed most other capital cities and other regional centres such as the Gold Coast and Newcastle have moved on from the argument about whether they should have light rail or not. The evidence base seems to be going in the direction of light rail as a suitable multi-modal form of transport. I realise you vehemently disagree with that but it doesn’t stop the progress of light rail in cities.

Most other capital cities have heavy rail and metro systems too, why don’t you advocate for those whilst you’re promoting unviable projects.

As I said, those that understand and value good infrastructure planning understand why light rail is not feasible for the ACT.

Those who like shiny new things don’t.

i’m not advocating for anything, just making the observation. Canberra has heavy rail at Kingston railway station although this is a interstate service. There has been discussion between the ACT Chief Minister and NSW John Barilaro so your comment may have been more prescient than you thought. By “shiny new things” I assume you mean SUVs. Light rail has already proved feasibility on the Gungahlin to city link.

What part of heavy rail and metro systems didn’t you get?

Although if you want to talk about interstate rail and unviable projects, i’m sure you’re also a proponent of a very fast train for the eastern seaboard correct?

I mean look at Japan and all those countries in Europe that have them. If all those other places have them, we should too right?

“Light rail has already proved feasibility on the Gungahlin to city link.”


Perhaps you’d like to link to the study that’s “proven” this then?*

*Protip: for those that don’t understand infrastructure planning, patronage does not equal project feasibility.

Capital Retro9:15 am 19 Aug 20

“Light rail has already proved feasibility on the Gungahlin to city link.”

In what way?

As expected.

Did you actually read and understand that “report”? To call it attempted post hoc justification would be an understatement.

As ive consistently said, light rail would always have an impact on numerous factors. Spending a billion dollars on infrastructure usually does. Pointing out that property values have risen and public transport patronage has improved etc. is meaningless.

Once again, for those that understand and value good infrastructure planning, these things do not make a project feasible.

It was never a decision between doing something and doing nothing, you need to compare apples with apples.

So if you think that report says the projects feasibility has been “proven”, you would be abld to reference the section that examines the direct impact of light rail and measures the benefits against the cost of the project.

And then perhaps you can link the section that compares this against the likely outcomes from other options available.

Also when you do that you should remember that correlation does not equal causation.

I know you like shiny new things, but that doesn’t equal good planning. You need to show value for money against alternatives.

Which we both know you can’t because the project was never justified.

“Pointing out that property values have risen and patronage has improved etc is meaningless”. I don’t know whether you realise how funny that comment is. Perhaps you should make your wisdom known to the relevant Minister. Perhaps you should make your wisdom on the subject of infrastructure known to the relevant Minister. They like getting letters like this, particularly on a Friday afternoon. Enjoy your “shiny new things”.

You really have no idea do you. Did you even read my comment?

“As I’ve consistently said, light rail would always have an impact on numerous factors.”

If you want to reply, at least try to engage in basic comprehension skills.

Of course gold plated infrastructure gets used. Of course it impacts positively on things like property values and public transport usage.

None of that makes a project viable or value for money. By the “logic” you’re employing, you could justify any level of expenditure regardless of the impacts.

Why do you think that you don’t need to weigh the benefits against the costs?

Even a child could understand.

And if you really want to talk about property values increasing, you do realise that all taxpayers have funded a massive windfall benefit to mostly well off property owners along the route right?

Think about it for a moment, the main benefits for this project weren’t transport benefits, they were development and infill ones.

So the government has just spent hundreds of millions of our tax dollars so that rich property owners could make a massive profit.

Public funds, private profits. And you’re actively supportive of it. Outstanding.

It’s pretty clear that you don’t agree with the government’s infrastructure light rail projects even though, so far, by any metric, it’s a resounding success. So it looks like you be railing against (pardon the pun) stages 2A, 2B, 3 & 4 no matter how successful they are. It’s an opposition more founded on ideology than logic. Canberra will inevitably progress to a multi-modal transport method, like all other capital cities (except Darwin) and the business case is strongest for light rail as being the most suitable. As they say, the dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

Yes, it’s clear to everyone that you would back any level of ALP government expenditure on light rail regardless of the clear lack of benefits as has been repeatedly shown to you.

Every metric shows that the Light Rail was a woeful decision from an infrastructure planning perspective but still the rusted on partisans continue to parrot the party line.

As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

Put up projects with a decent RoI and you might get some money.

Public infrastructure isn’t necessarily supposed to turn a profit. The overall gain to society outweighs the cost. One easy example is the sewerage network. Piping the poo away from the population that generates it doesn’t make a profit, but the benefit of not having filth in the streets causing cholera outbreaks is worth it. Public transport is the same – the benefit of having a mobile population who can get efficiently, cleanly to work/shopping/education/family generates second-order effects that outweigh the cost of building the infrastructure.

Note that I am not suggesting that publish transport be made free (neither is your sewerage service!), just that doing simple arithmetic on “how much does it cost to build and run” misses a big part of the story.

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