The next stage of light rail from Alinga Street to Commonwealth Park is a step closer with the National Capital Authority approving the raising of London Circuit to remove the current cloverleaf arrangement to create a signalised, four-way intersection with Commonwealth Avenue.
But the government is no longer saying the first track for the 1.7 km extension along London Circuit will be laid in 2024.
Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel said the government would be only able to provide a timeline for light rail Stage 2A once procurement was complete.
He said procurement for the raising of London Circuit had commenced and works were expected to get underway later this year and take several years to complete.
The most disruptive construction work was likely to begin in 2023 with the removal of the Commonwealth Avenue overpasses over London Circuit.
The approval will also allow the installation of traffic lights at the intersection of Parkes Way and Corranderrk Street and free up land in and around London Circuit for office, residential and mixed-use developments.
While the NCA will need to assess specific Works Applications for Light Rail Stages 2A to Commonwealth Park and 2B to Woden, the approval means necessary work to facilitate its progress around London Circuit to Commonwealth Avenue will be able to proceed.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the project was a step forward in bringing the city and the lake closer and supporting many other infrastructure commitments in the city centre, including the extension of the light rail network to Woden, the renewal of the Canberra Theatre precinct and the Acton Park boardwalk.
He said it would also mean better pedestrian connections between the east and west of the city and rejuvenate City Hill.
“It’s going to open up City Hill as a place that people might actually use as opposed to being just a lump of land in the middle of roadway,” he said.
Mr Steel said raising London Circuit would turn a busy and hard-to-navigate road interchange into a more people-friendly place for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
It comes despite consultation submissions being dominated by those opposed to the plans.
Only 18 of the 126 submissions supported the proposal; 96 opposed it, with 12 others with mixed or neutral views.
The consultation report says issues presented included opposition to the extension of light rail, cost concerns, the separation of the London Circuit plans from the overall light rail proposal, the need for the four-way intersection at London Circuit, construction traffic and disruption, traffic changes, and pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle safety.
But it says lower speed limits and design features such as separated off-road cycleways and pedestrian paths will make the roads safer.
The report says there were a few submission references to the proposed landscape treatment and the design of the public realm, and some commented that raising London Circuit “will have a negative impact on the landscape and vistas that are an essential element of the Griffin design”, and noted impacts on Canberra’s Garden City principles.
The NCA said it considered all the issues raised and concluded the proposal was not inconsistent with the National Capital Plan.
It was satisfied that the project would maintain the geometry of the Griffins’ plan for Canberra and proposes high-quality landscape and public realm outcomes that will not have a major impact on the vista or approach to Parliament House.
NCA CEO Sally Barnes said concerns about the ACT Government’s decision about the purpose of the current proposal, the mode of transport selected for Canberra, project management and total cost were beyond the NCA’s legislative reach and planning considerations.
“These issues fall under the purview of the ACT Government,” she said.
But she said the NCA would require future developments, after the cloverleaves were removed, to be of the highest quality and design.
“The premium public realm and landscape features approved for the new intersection, for instance, will need to be carried over along Commonwealth Avenue and all the way through to Light Rail Stage 2A,” Ms Barnes said.
The Consultation Report said that a stand-alone application for the London Circuit project enabled the early sale and subsequent development of sites adjacent to future light rail, as well as helping to contain the cost of the light rail project.
This was consistent with the general planning principles of bringing the City to the Lake, it said.
Instead of the current underpass, London Circuit will be reconstructed using 60,000 cubic metres of fill on either side of Commonwealth Avenue, lifting the road six metres to form a four-way intersection with traffic lights and with sufficient space to accommodate light rail.
Two of the existing cloverleaf ramps will be removed, with access routes via Edinburgh Avenue and Constitution Avenue channelling traffic to the City’s west and east.
Between Commonwealth Avenue and Constitution Avenue, London Circuit will also be rebuilt to accommodate the potential future expansion of the light rail network.
There will be temporary works on Vernon Circle to widen the existing northern road loop around City Hill between London Circuit and City Hill and create a dedicated bus lane and separate vehicle lane. New traffic lights will enable northbound vehicles to safely turn right into City East.
Three site compounds on city car parks will support the project: part of the car park on Block 1, Section 116; City Block 2 and City Block 3, Section 20; and Acton Block 24, Section 33.
The ACT Government says Canberrans will face four years of traffic disruption during the course of the light rail Stage 2A project.
About 100 mature trees will need to be cleared, but more than 130 trees will be planted post-construction.