Upgrades to Canberra’s iconic Commonwealth Avenue Bridge have been added to the list of priority infrastructure projects as Australia continues to look towards an infrastructure-led economic recovery to propel it out of the COVID-19-induced recession.
The $125 million upgrades to the bridge will include a number of critical safety improvements according to Infrastructure Australia – the Federal Government’s lead infrastructure advisory body, although Canberrans will have to wait until the Federal Budget is handed down on 6 October to see if the project will be funded by the Commonwealth.
The proposal will strengthen the bridge and extend its lifespan by 50 years to help it cope with the forecast traffic increase of 25 per cent over the next 15 years, Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said.
“The bridge reached design capacity more than three years ago, carrying an average of 7,320 vehicles during the morning peak hour,” she said.
“Upgrading the Bridge will … offer improved travel times and safety benefits for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.”
The announcement came four months after the National Capital Authority backed away from a proposal to knock down and replace the bridge, saying it preferred to strengthen and widen the bridge instead.
The news about the proposal to knock down and rebuild the bridge to cater for traffic and light rail came as a surprise to then Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris.
While the bridge was considered a possible thoroughfare for Stage 2B of light rail between Commonwealth Park and Woden, the government’s position remains that a third, dedicated bridge for light rail be built over Lake Burley Griffin.
“As noted by Infrastructure Australia, Commonwealth Avenue bridge reached its peak designed capacity three years ago. It is clear a new ‘third’ bridge and a mass rapid transit system across the lake is a necessary investment now and into the future,” Transport Minister Chris Steel said.
“The project will also be a significant enabler for the extension of light rail to Woden. Light rail to Woden will carry up to 200 passengers every 5 minutes during the peak across Commonwealth Avenue, taking more cars off the road and creating the north-south spine for Canberra’s light rail network.
“An expansion of active travel space across the bridge should [also] be part of the upgraded bridge to support Canberrans walking and cycling across the lake.”
The project is expected to return $2.65 in benefits for every $1 spent on the upgrades according to Infrastructure Australia.
The bridge was built in 1963 and was the first to cross the newly dammed Lake Burley Griffin.