5 January 2021

Federal Environment Minister's decision on light rail Stage 2A due this month

| Ian Bushnell
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Light Rail Stage 2A

Light Rail Stage 2A at the intersection of a raised London Circuit with Commonwealth Avenue. Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley will hand down her decision by 29 January. Images: ACT Government.

A decision from the Commonwealth on whether work on the first section of light rail Stage 2 from Civic to Commonwealth Park can proceed is now expected towards the end of January.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley has until 29 January to hand down her decision on the project, deemed a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The decision had been expected early in the month but the Minister requested more time to assess the application from Major Projects Canberra, the ACT Government agency in charge of light rail construction.

The Commonwealth is also assessing the proposal for Stage 2B, across Lake Burley Griffin to Woden, but that is a much more complex project running through the Parliamentary Triangle, with more environmental and heritage impacts, and requiring major bridge works.

If Ms Ley gives Stage 2A the nod, the project still requires a Territory Development Approval and NCA Works Approval.

Late last year Transport Minister Chris Steel said the impact of the pandemic and the complexity of the project and approvals processes had delayed the signing of a contract for Stage 2A with the chosen contractor, Canberra Metro.

He said that the government was unlikely to ink any deal until the second half of 2021, and actual construction may not begin until 2022.

The government had hoped to begin construction on Stage 2A round London Circuit to Commonwealth Avenue in the first half of 2021 but Mr Steel said contracts for the raising of London Circuit, which will be the first major physical works of the project, were not expected to be signed until later in 2021.

But much depended upon Commonwealth planning approval and procurement processes.

The 1.7 km Stage 2A leg will be wireless and the Commonwealth Avenue section will have grass tracks, but an electricity sub-station originally planned will not have to be built.

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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 will provide an alternative route through the city both during and after the construction of Stage 2.

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

Early works, including geotechnical and survey work, were continuing along the Stage 2A alignment, and early utilities investigations were expected to take place in the first half of 2021.

Stage 2B design and procurement planning is continuing, focusing on some of the more complex areas of the alignment such as the light rail transitions to and from State Circle in Stage 2B, and assessment of infrastructure near Commonwealth Bridge and the Lake.

The pandemic has disrupted overseas supply chains and the sourcing of technical experts based abroad.

The government continues to lobby the Commonwealth to hasten its approval processes and would welcome any financial support for the project as part of the economic recovery program.

It had been thought Stage 2A would be up and running by 2023 and Stage 2B two years later, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.

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This is a rare case where I’d actually like the federal government to over-rule the ACT government and stop this project. Why we are paying such an extraordinary amount of money to make public and private transport in this city slower, with more waiting at interchanges and traffic lights, is a complete mystery to me. We could run more buses more often for a fraction of the money.

HiddenDragon8:12 pm 06 Jan 21

With the truly fascinating news that QCity buses will be replacing the trams for part of the line while the Sandford Street stop is being constructed, perhaps we could just get them to run buses to and from Woden, and save ourselves a few billion and a lot of disruption.

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