The ACT Government looks set to abandon its preferred route through Barton for Stage 2 of the light rail network to Woden, in order to win Commonwealth approval as soon as possible.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr suggested that the Government would not allow hurdles to be placed in the way of light rail by the Commonwealth to slow or block its progress, and that it was willing to look at a less onerous alternative that would be approved more quickly.
“We won’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good when it comes to getting on with the next stage of this important infrastructure project to bring light rail to Woden,” Mr Barr said in a mid-term speech on his Government’s progress at the Ainslie Arts Centre.
He said that in light of the federal parliamentary committee’s recent report outlining the range of criteria the project would need to meet if it deviated through Parkes and Barton, the Government was now looking at the best route alignment to achieve ‘timely approval’ from the Commonwealth.
Mr Barr said the committee had clearly indicated that the ACT should focus on State Circle and that this was the fast track to approval.
“What we’ll focus on once you’re over Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, and then to get around to Sydney Avenue the committee appears to have said continue up Commonwealth Avenue, and go around State Circle and behind Parliament House and then back up on to Adelaide Avenue,” Mr Barr said.
“That’s the identified public transport corridor, that in the end is the path of least resistance in terms of not needing to get changes to the intertown public transport route.”
He said this would shave some minutes off the journey.
The Government would make decision next year but would not go back to the Commonwealth until after the federal election in May.
With the Government already facing delays to Stage 1, with services now not due to start until some time in the first quarter of 2019, and possibly not until April when the new bus network will be launched, Mr Barr said that the Government did not want to wait long for Stage 2 to begin.
“We’re keeping up the momentum because Stage 2 is integral to our vision for a city-wide integrated public transport network,” he said.
The Barton dog-leg, as it has become known, has come under fire from many quarters including the Planning Institute and the Woden Valley Community Council, which prefer a direct route that maintains the integrity of the north-south spine and does not mean longer journeys than what the current Blue Rapid bus service provides.
Going through Barton would add 15-20 minutes to a Woden-City journey.
The Government pushed for the Barton route so as to capture patronage from the public service departments, national institutions and other employment centres in the Parliamentary Triangle.
But the federal parliamentary committee said in October that going though Barton would require changes to the National Capital Plan, heritage conditions and light rail vehicles to be wire-free on national land. This would add cost and complexity to the project, it said.
At the time, Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the committee’s report provided a way forward for the ACT Government and that it would press on with the Barton route. Although she did later hint at being more flexible.
But now it appears that a pragmatic Chief Minister is prepared to revisit the route to ensure light rail gets to Woden sooner rather than later.
“We agree this is the path of least resistance in attaining Commonwealth approvals for construction to occur, and trust this compromise is matched in spirit with a speedy approvals process to enable a business case to be prepared. We would like to see construction started as soon as possible,” he said.