The announcement of $85.9 million in Federal funding for the Territory’s light rail project has done little to alleviate the timeline concerns of the Canberra Liberals.
In recent months, the Opposition has been heaping pressure on Transport Minister Chris Steel to commit to a deadline for completion – even if it’s just a rough decade.
This is something he’s refused to do, arguing that “rubbery figures” are of no use to anyone.
Tuesday’s (25 October) Federal Budget committed $85.9 million to Stage 2A to help bring light rail to Commonwealth Park, taking total federal funding for the project to almost $220 million following $132 million from the former Coalition government.
But Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee questioned the “lack of detail” in the announcement and how the funding will be rolled out.
“We know there will be about $85 million and the start will be $15 million from the 2024-25 financial year and spread across six years,” she said.
“[There are] so many questions about this funding announcement, including whether it is going to be 2030 by the time we see the completion of Stage 2A.”
But Mr Steel refuted this, saying the funding roll-out was not the same as the construction timeframe.
He suggested it would not take another eight years for Stage 2A to be built, but he still would not say when it would be done.
“The timing of Stage 2A operations will be determined through the procurement process currently underway,” he said.
Mr Steel accused the Opposition of “another failed attempt” to jeopardise the project.
Initial works have begun on the raising of London Circuit, which has to be done before any tracks can be laid for 2A.
The raising of London Circuit is expected to take around two years.
In budget estimates in August, Mr Steel said a works application for Stage 2A was expected to be submitted to the National Capital Authority by the end of the year.
That application must be approved before a contract can be signed for the construction. Officials said signing a contract too far in advance could carry risks.
The lack of a timeline is despite the fact that in 2021 Mr Steel said light rail tracks would be laid on London Circuit by the 2024 election.
Then, before Stage 2B can begin, the government must develop a business case for the project. Mr Steel said part of this included determining the “optimal timeframes”.
Planning for 2B is likely to be complicated from a heritage perspective as the light rail will snake through the Parliamentary Triangle.
Work is underway to build a light rail-ready depot in Woden, and some work on the initial design and environmental approvals for Stage 2B has commenced, but no funding for that was provided in the recent Budget, which Ms Lee said was “interesting”.
The pre-feasibility work for Stage 3 (Belconnen to Civic, Airport) – expected to be completed in 2021 – has also been delayed until 2023.
The ACT Greens have joined forced with the Canberra Liberals to push the government for a clear timeframe.
Years of traffic disruptions are expected as the work associated with light rail picks up pace.