“Everything has changed,” says an exultant Chief Minister Andrew Barr, welcoming Federal Labor’s $200 million commitment towards the construction of Stage 2 of the light rail network to Woden, should Bill Shorten win government at the Federal election in May.
Whether it will be enough to breathe new life into the Barton dog-leg is debatable but the Chief Minister obviously has a plan B.
The focus, he says is on not so much the alignment but where the stops will be.
“Clearly, a different route to State Circle would require changes to the National Capital Plan which would be a longer process,” he said at a press conference in the city with Mr Shorten, Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris and ALP candidate for Canberra, Alicia Payne.
But taking that path of least resistance doesn’t rule out some sort of compromise that allows the route to service those parliamentary zone hubs.
“We’ve got to be able to service the people who live and work in and around those precincts,” he said.
Mr Barr said Cabinet was still considering the route alignment and the business case but Federal Labor’s commitment was timely and significant.
“We could have spent millions and millions of dollars going down various paths that the Commonwealth wouldn’t ultimately support because in the end they had no interest in supporting the project,” he said.
“It’s a very clear statement that the Shorten Government would work with the ACT Government to deliver the project that will meet our city’s future transport needs.”
This made a massive difference and having a cooperative Federal Government could help reduce the cost of the project, touted to be $1.3-1.6 billion, by the smoothing out the parliamentary approvals process and not forcing the ACT Government to jump through unnecessary hoops.
Mr Barr reasserted the public transport aims of the project, calling it a congestion buster that intended to cater for the travel needs of Canberrans, particularly the people working in the parliamentary triangle, well into the future.
He said the city was growing by 10,000 a year. “You think congestion is bad now, if we don’t make this investment now we will go down the path of Sydney,” he said.
Mr Shorten said the ACT’s light rail project was the way infrastructure should be built in Australia, saying it would be great if the ACT could roll seamlessly from Stage 1 into Stage 2.
He said the commitment ensured the ACT Government could continue planning the project knowing it would attract federal support.
Mr Shorten said the project was an example of Federal Labor’s determination to work with states and territories to tackle traffic congestion and create jobs in Australian cities.
“Labor will invest in public transport projects that will make a real difference to people’s daily lives in Canberra and create secure, local jobs,” he said.
Mr Shorten said that on current population projections, 210,000 people will live within a kilometre of the Woden corridor by 2041.
“Canberra is our nation’s proud capital and we will make sure this beautiful city shines and has the right infrastructure to attract new tourism and economic opportunities,” he said.
“Better public transport takes cars off our roads and makes our transport system more efficient, which in turn sets the scene for stronger economic growth and job creation.”
Mr Barr relished the prospect of having a Federal Government actually interested in the national capital. “We have all had a gutful of being told we live in a bubble, that this place is not real,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canberra Liberals transport spokesperson Candice Burch said Federal Labor’s commitment was premature, given the lack of a business case or a cost-benefit study for the proposed route.
“The Labor-Greens Government is yet to release a business case or any kind of analysis into different route options. Given the loss of the Barton dog-leg, and increased travel time between Woden and the City when compared to current buses, the benefits of Stage 2 are still unknown,” she said
“The Labor-Greens Government must release a business case as soon as possible, so that Canberrans have full transparency of this proposed project.”