14 May 2022

Commonwealth Bridge works to push back light rail crossing

| Ian Bushnell
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Looking between the spans of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge towards Parliament House.

The heritage-listed Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. The ACT Government wants to build a third bridge for light rail between the spans. Photo: File.

Works to strengthen Commonwealth Bridge and widen shared pedestrian and cycleway paths are expected to be complete in 2024-25. The program shunts construction of a new crossing to carry light rail across the lake to the back half of the decade.

The National Capital Authority (NCA) has issued a `request for tender’ for a design consultant for the $137 million project which will strengthen and widen the key bridge across Lake Burley Griffin, increase its load-bearing capacity, improve safety barriers and offer more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

NCA CEO Sally Barnes said the authority hoped the project could be completed by the end of 2024.

It had considered whether it would be more efficient to strengthen the bridge at the same time as the proposed Light Rail Stage 2B crossing but it was unknown when the latter would be ready.

“We need to get on with the strengthening because we couldn’t see when the other bridge would be coming to fruition,” Ms Barnes said.

READ ALSO Lake Burley Griffin heritage listing won’t sink light rail, says government

Any rail crossing will now have to wait until this project is finished.

Ms Barnes said the tenderers would not have to take into account the future rail bridge proposed between the two road spans, but they would need to ensure their designs adhered to the values in the Commonwealth heritage listing of the lake and adjacent lands.

“The tender points to the listing so anyone designing the improvements knows what the listing says and addresses the values,” she said.

Sally Barnes explains her design principles.

NCA CEO Sally Barnes: “I think a good designer can work within those constraints and deliver something quite beautiful.” Photo: Region Media.

She said a new rail bridge could not become the dominant feature of Commonwealth Bridge and detract from the presence of the existing spans or obstruct any views or vistas.

The NCA had been working with the ACT Government so was aware of the bridge’s heritage values and could guide the design of a central rail span.

Ms Barnes said the listing, which she described as formalising already-held heritage standards, should not in itself be a barrier to a rail crossing.

“I think a good designer can work within those constraints and deliver something quite beautiful that will actually maintain the beauty of the existing bridges,” she said.

READ ALSO Light rail could double housing in Stage 2B corridor, says study

The heritage listing should not impede the progress for Stage 2A, awaiting works approval from the NCA, or Stage 2B to Woden which was still going through federal environmental approvals.

“We will be using the new listing to do the impact assessments but it’s pretty close to what we’ve been using already so we’re just going through that right now just to make sure,” Ms Barnes said.

Canberrans can expect massive traffic disruptions to the southern gateway to Civic with bridge work coinciding with the enabling works for light rail Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park, including the raising of London Circuit and the expected start of track laying in late 2024.

The NCA said the timing of works would be coordinated with the ACT Government and phased to minimise community disruption.

Road and lake closures will be advised as the project progresses.

Built in the early 1960s, Commonwealth Bridge has remained one of the busiest transport assets in Canberra.

The Commonwealth is funding the work as a priority infrastructure project.


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Light rail should have been installed in 1925. 2 years after the bridge collapsed. However it wasn’t, so 100 years later seems like we’ve missed the boat.

Filling in parks way to discourage people from driving to take the tram seems a lot like breaking windows to encourage the economy.

The only thing that might make sense in the triangle is a subway. Its only 5km from the airport.

limestonecowboy7:50 pm 14 May 22

Can’t help feeling the NCA is making light rail as difficult as possible for the local government.
The extra cost of having no overhead wires now this.
They, well their predecessors the NCDC, created the sprawl that is Canberra and the expansive road network that is now compounding the extra commuting miles and associated emissions.
No talk of removing the monstrosity that is Parkes Way that cut a huge swathe through the parliamentary triangle when cars were “kings”

They did the same with the GDE too. The ACT government wanted it to go west if Bruce stadium NCA (who also controls that part of the ACT) insisted it go east. That of course mean years of court battles with the Save the Ridge mob which delayed the project by years and cost a lot more than it should have.

Whilst some here will correctly say that is the NCA prerogative, which they are not wrong with fact remains it was an act of political bastardy from a non elected body who has their strings pulled by the federal (Liberal then and now) government.

Except it was nothing of the sort.

It was the correct decision from the appropriate planning body.

The sole blame for the GDE debacle lies with the ACT Government whose poor planning and lack of engagement with the NCA caused the problem. The ACT Gov tried to ram through their preference and found out pretty quickly that it wasn’t a smart idea.

If anyone was playing politics it was ACT Labor.

Bit of déjà Vu with The GDE program. Feds (NCA) playing games knowing it will cause issues to an ACT project.

They have been in no rush to strengthen these bridges before now, so begs the question why the urgency now when even they admit it would be best to do this work at the same time as a light rail bridge.

You can’t possibly blame the Feds for this.

They wanted to complete the project at the same time as light rail.

But we both know the ACT Government can’t possibly commit to the bridge construction works at this time due to the immense cost of Light Rail Stage 2B and the fact that it makes zero sense as a project right now.

This simply provides the ACT Gov with another excuse to delay which they’ve been actively seeking.

Which is actually a very good thing for any ACT taxpayer.

The only way a rail bridge will meet heritage values is for tram-heads to develop invisible bridge technology.

So, it’ll take 5 years to strengthen the bridge for ordinary use, before the ACT Government starts building a new bridge between the sections. In the meantime, 2A could continue.

What I don’t understand is what is the point in doing Stage 2A, when Stage 2B to Woden hasn’t yet been granted federal approval?

We could end up with LR terminating at the Lake and the Government then needing to build a new Bus Interchange to connect to LR. Money spent for no real purpose.

Issues about whether LR is a good idea or not are secondary. My view is that they should get federal approval before they start knocking down clover leaves.

2B has been granted federal approval.

What hasn’t been approved is the actual construction, which comes down to details not overall yes or no.

Kenbehrens, the clover leaves are going to be removed regardless of light rail.

They’re a massive amount of wasted space that could easily be redeveloped, whilst maintaining the road function.

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