As one of the strongest supporters of light rail called for the ACT Government to re-evaluate its preferred route for Stage 2 through Barton, Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris has left the door open to taking a more direct path to Woden.
The Planning Institute of Australia says the Government should use the recent report from the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories to abandon its deviation through the Parliamentary Triangle and return to the 2015 Light Rail Network Plan which proposes a route from Kingston along Wentworth Avenue, Brisbane Avenue and across the Triangle as a future stage of the network.
It argues that the proposed Barton ‘dog leg’ removes the route’s effectiveness as a rapid inter-town public transport system and could limit options for a spur serving Barton, Kingston and beyond.
Its submission to the inquiry said: “A diversion from the most direct and legible route at Barton will penalise many kilometres of route beyond Woden Town Centre … a diversion from the primary spine would likely reduce both the incentive and the real-world ability to interchange as future stages of light rail come on-line.”
The committee recommended a two-stage approval process to resolve route consistency, and then assess the detailed alignment. It also suggested that the Barton route would result in delays and extra costs.
The Institute sees this recommendation as an opportunity to reset the project objectives.
“Ideally, the 2015 Light Rail Network Plan would be incorporated into the National Capital Plan to ensure the Parliamentary Zone and Barton are well served by and form integral parts of a comprehensive and sustainable light rail network,” the Institute says.
“Ultimately such a network would provide direct services from Parliament House and Barton to City centre, Russell, the Airport, Kingston and beyond.”
The Institute says that by deviating to improve patronage in Barton, the ultimate success of the light rail project as part of a network will be diminished.
“The project must deliver on clear non-contradictory objectives,” it says.
Ms Fitzharris said the Government remained committed to Stage 2 crossing Lake Burley Griffin via Commonwealth Avenue Bridge but created some room to manoeuvre when asked on ABC radio whether the Barton route was being re-evaluated in light of the committee’s findings.
She said the Government would weigh up the committee’s recommendations and make sure it could deliver light rail to Woden.
“That’s our highest priority, we’ll need to make sensible decisions, and sensible decisions that gets light rail to Woden and are good value for taxpayers’ money,” she said.
The Government had been discussing Stage 2 with the National Capital Authority for the past two years and it had not said that it would not support the preferred route.
Ms Fitzharris said the important thing was the Federal Government response to the committee report but she backed Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s contention that getting stage 2 approved will be easier if Labor won next year’s Federal election.