30 March 2022

Green light for raising of London Circuit paves way for light rail extension

| Ian Bushnell
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Two men standing on grass

Major Projects Duncan Edghill and Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel on City Hill with Commonwealth Avenue behind them. Photo: Ian Bushnell

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.

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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.

Light rail intersection - artist's impression

An artist’s impression of the intersection of London Circuit and Commonwealth Avenue on the light rail Stage 2A route to Commonwealth Park. Image: ACT Government

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.

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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.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: the project was a step forward in bringing the city and the lake closer. Photo: Ian Bushnell

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.

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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.

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I’m not against the light rail. In fact I think it’s a pretty cool thing.

I am however against cost shifting onto the motorist by way of replacing a smooth interchange with yet another set of fuel and time wasting traffic lights.

Maybe if camera’s were fitted to every new set of traffic lights and every motorist that gets stopped by them gets reimbursed for the fuel they have to waste then maybe the government might come up with something better than traffic lights.

I know it’s costly but push the light rail underground or overhead.

Crossing Northbourne Avenue on any road that intersects it and the light rail tracks has become a time and fuel consuming nightmare.

Stop start driving causes pollution. Why do our “green” government seem to conveniently forget this?

Linda Seaniger6:37 pm 31 Mar 22

Absolute Madness. Halt the procurement process until after the next election to give Canberrans the option of yo vote on whether they want such an ugly an archaic form of transport. Thats the public consultation.

It was an issue at the last election so it’s one that has been resolved. Oh BTW that’s called democracy, consultation is something different and doesn’t happen at a ballot box.

Linda is saying that we should know exactly what we are getting, its financial costs and implications, then the people of Canberra could weigh up the pros and cons because, to be honest, the Government aren’t real good at disclosing these details. Mark Parton said as much on the radio this morning.

The problem however is that regardless of the cost, the expected 4 years of nightmare congestion and what will ultimately be a slow form of transport (70 kph), history tells us that the people of Canberra will re-elect the ALP/Greens Government anyway.

I disagree especially with disclosure of costs. The costs for stage 1 are very very clear and have been ever since the contact was signed. Not a surprise considering how it is being delivered.

As for it being slow, said it many times but main reason the time Woden to civic is slower than the bus is because the route it’s taking and the number of stops it is making. The fact it’s top speed is 70km/h is neither here nor there. If you put a bus on the exact same route and it made the exact same stops and it was given the same priority journey times would be similar as where light rail beats bus hands down is acceleration and deceleration. Plus of course overall capacity.

JC,
You may be right that there was more information provided on the costs of stage 1, even though the assessment of the benefits was far looser with some very heroic assumptions.

But you can’t possibly argue the same for stage 2A and beyond. The amount of information released is almost non existent and what has been released shows you would never build those future stages any time soon.

The need simply doesn’t exist and they didnt even bother to look at alternative solutions.

And that information was based on pre covid numbers, which are infinitely worse now.

The stage 1 patronage is massively below projections due to Covid impacts and doesn’t look like bouncing back any time soon due to the step change in working patterns and behavioural changes to avoid public transport.

And no, we’ve been over the journey times and capacity issues previously. Light Rail can be expanded to have higher capacity than buses but that isn’t what is proposed. And the journey time is slower no matter which way you want to spin it.

Yet another nutty ACT Government project. They should admit that it’s all about money. The money from extra buildings where the traffic loops are.

A better solution would be the tram goes single line each way at the Northbourne-London Circuit intersection. Southbound to the left. Its going to be battery powered there to the lake, so no overhead wires need to be replicated, just lay the tracks. Then the southbound track can simply run around London Circuit and up the same on-ramp that cars and buses use. The advantage here is that the tram tracks along the kerb, making boarding and alighting easier than tracks in the median strip. This would also mean not having to rip out the wonderful Cedar trees in Commonwealth Avenue. The tram to Woden could also keep in the roadway all around Parliament House and into Adelaide Avenue.

Northbound traffic from Woden could also stay in the traffic lane down Commonwealth Avenue, over the bridge, down a ramp into London Circuit West and then Northbourne Avenue.

“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.”

While I agree the interchange will be far more people friendly and opening up city hill is nice. The existing London Circuit is one of the most efficient interchanges in the city, the idea that this will make it less busy is a joke! This project will make traffic at that intersection a nightmare.

Essentially, this project will make London Circuit a much nicer place… if you can even stomach getting there!

Incompetence or corruption? Pick your option. NCA is becoming just as useless as ACTPLA in just blindly ignoring all the valid objections about the plans.

BD84,
I’d love to hear what you think these valid objections to the plan are?

Be sure to make specific references to the National Capital Plan and the areas within the NCAs remit.

“Putting the cart before the horse.” ..
I do not understand this Stage 2A development.
These massive earthworks apparently will permit the Light Rail to pass along London Circuit on the West to the Northbourne and Commonwealth Avenues axis, and then chug up through the interestion, towards a terminus somewhere near the Catholic Archbishop’s (?) residence, or to the northern end of Commonwealth Bridge. That stop could service Regatta Point and the new West Basin precinct.
HOWEVER, my understanding was that the further extension of the Light Rail to Woden through the Parliamentary Triangle, has not yet been negotiated with the Federal authorities.
Particularly there was some caveat that the line had to have NO overhead power wires in the Triangle zone.
THAT would mean that the present train set would need somehow to be modified or indeed entirely replaced so that their power in the Triangle was either from Batteries or I suppose drawn from the ether (could solar panels do it) ?
Is Stage 2A intended to oblige the Feds to concede overhead pantograph power wires within the Triangle, by a supposed ACT fait accompli ?
I suspect this may become a tragic folly-in-the-making.
Nevertheless, their juggernaut rolls on .. .. Well, until some Fed. puts a spanner in the works.

Rob Chalmers7:07 pm 30 Mar 22

I guess they are waiting, hoping for a Labor win Federally. That was the plan when Shorten failed in 2016. Still no bridge plan or anything else released. I have opposed this white elephant but now feel the lesser of two evils is getting on with it. A folly that will impact on Canberra for decades to come financially.

Read the documentation before spouting mouth. The trams we currently have have the capacity to add batteries and super capacitors for wire free running (as was specified in the initial procurement). 2A will also be wire free, the split is only to ease the initial NCA approvals, there’s no plan to stop at commonwealth bridge. 2B has had its initial EES, but there are still a lot of details to be worked through.

Read the fine print – ah Yes, Areaman – thanks for that suggestion.
So good to hear that there were forward looking plans.
Even better to know will those batteries and/or super-caps need a ‘trailer’ ?
As to that ‘stop’ or could-be Station-halt at Regatta Point, SURELY we won’t have the in-retrospect on-seconds-thought Mitchell Station-stop insertion, needing to be pre-planned ??
It is still a Folly.
Especially so, if there is no new Light Rail Commonwealth Avenue ‘bridge’ actually designed as Rob Charmers seems to suggest.
I can only hope that “thatsnotmyname’s” optimism will be justified.

Jd no the batteries don’t need a trailer. Google Newcastle CAF urbos3 and compare a picture of the end carriages to the Canberra ones. The difference you will see on the roof line on the Newcastle ones are the battery packs.

Hard to believe something has been planned hey?

thatsnotmyname4:34 pm 30 Mar 22

Very exciting and in my personal opinion it will be all worth the disruption.

ChrisinTurner10:12 am 31 Mar 22

Even if the tram will take twice as long to travel from Civic to Woden?

“Only 18 of the 126 submissions supported the proposal; 96 opposed it, with 12 others with mixed or neutral views” and ….it all goes ahead anyway. Why bother consulting when our Overlords have already decided what is best for us? Good thing I won’t be travelling into Civic it will be a dogs breakfast.

To be fair, the submissions in opposition don’t bring up any fundamental planning issues that would stop the project.

It was the same for the recent opposition to the War Memorial upgrade.

And we all get a chance to make our feelings known on any project. At election time.

Most people don’t have the resources to authoritatively oppose such a proposal. I’ve heard from a reliable source that the government’s own model indicates the traffic impact will be ‘a disaster’, and indeed the consultants modelling show significant impacts under the most locations likely scenarios. This is especially true with the deliberate omission of slip lanes for left turners that is a strong feature of this government’s road designs, an inefficient arrangement unstatedly intended to deter plebs like me from using our cars

Yet a simple assertion along these lines carried no weight and hardly anyone has the resources to get independent modelling to provide a different authoritative perspective to the government’s own which inevitably tells them what they want to hear.

Not commenting on the merits of the decision, but the numbers of submissions for and against isn’t a measure of support. By its nature people opposed to something are more likely to write in. The other issue is that just opposing or supporting the proposal is not relevant to the NCAs consultation, when they consult they are asking for arguments based on planning legislation as to why or why not the proposal should be approved. A letter saying I support this or I do not support this would have no weight.

Love to see the crossover of people objecting who also have membership of the ‘Guardians of the Lake’

All projects get more objections than support. People love a whinge.

Problem of course for people such as yourself and BD84 above who equate opposition with evidence so something needs to be stopped as a result is usually the opposition isn’t as widespread and as Chewy has pointed out a project cannot only be rejected on specific reasons related to the planning rules. If they were to overturn on opposition alone then that would be a distortion of planning.

“…..deter plebs like me from using our cars”. Interesting comment because that is the plan in the Greens recent transport proposal. Reduce congestion by removing the road that is congested.

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