Understandably, the ACT Government will want to give itself some wiggle room for the construction of light rail when it comes to timeframes.
There are a lot of unknowns to take into account, but at least the major hurdle of federal environmental approval for the 1.7 km Stage 2A from Alinga Street to Commonwealth Park has been cleared.
Canberrans, especially the businesses along the route, now want to know when construction will start and when we will be able to catch the tram down London Circuit.
But the pandemic has already wreaked havoc with the government’s timelines for signing contracts, supply chains and skill needs, and there are still two more hurdles – the National Capital Authority Works Approval and the ACT’s own planning authority.
The best the government could come up with on a timeline was a start on the two-year raising of London Circuit sometime in 2021-22, and both Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Transport Chris Steel were unwilling to be pinned down on specific milestones.
Mr Barr did not respond well to suggestions that this could mean light rail may not become a reality until after the next election, considering that actual work on light rail apparently can’t begin until the London Circuit raising is completed.
He insisted that if all went well, the London Circuit project could be underway later this year, with a start on light rail in 2023.
After repeated questioning, Mr Steel finally committed to tracks being laid by the next election.
Maybe, but these projects have a way of getting away from governments, although the 12 km Stage 1 was only four months overdue and came in slightly under budget.
It would be better if the government forgot about political timetables and was more upfront with the community, rather than deliberately being vague and then evasive.
It does not really matter whether the project is delivered in time for an election. The question of light rail has been well and truly settled after three elections, and it is now accepted as the way forward for expanding public transport in the ACT.
The issue for the government is now about managing the project well, and keeping public expectations realistic, not managing the politics.
Mr Barr, when pressed, also says more announcements are on the way that will provide more clarity. Good.
But Stage2A is the little one, wait for Stage 2B to Woden across Lake Burley Griffin through the Parliamentary Zone.
The government is now preparing the required EIS for federal environmental approval, a process that may take 18 months, and then there is still NCA and parliamentary approval.
Whether the timetable for Stage 2B, which Mr Steel says the government is determined to deliver, blows out may come down to how many parts of the project can be synchronised, so the staging is not overly extended.
There are a lot of moving parts and the pandemic, no matter how limited the fallout has been in Australia, has complicated things.
The government should be bluntly honest and crystal clear with the community because the light rail network is a complex piece of infrastructure subject to many variables that will take many, many years to complete, no matter which party is in government.