Light rail Stage 2A from the city to Commonwealth Park has been given federal environmental approval.
The project has been under assessment since being referred to the Commonwealth under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The decision had been expected early in January 2021 but Environment Minister Sussan Ley requested more time to assess the application from Major Projects Canberra, the ACT Government agency in charge of light rail construction.
The EPBC referrals website was updated late Tuesday afternoon to show the project had been approved.
Stage 2A will run along London Circuit through City West to Commonwealth Avenue, encompassing three stops and terminating at Commonwealth Park.
The 1.7km route will be wire free and first involve the major engineering work of raising London Circuit to the level of Commonwealth Avenue.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the approval was an important milestone in progressing Stage 2 of light rail to Woden which will secure more than 1000 jobs.
Mr Barr said the upcoming budget would allocate $2.1 million to early works design to raise London Circuit with construction to commence as early as 2021-22.
The project will raise the London Circuit road level on either side of Commonwealth Avenue, taking around two years to complete. It involves changing the current split-level, overpass-underpass configuration into a level intersection.
The Budget will also allocate funding to assess the benefits of extending light rail even further from Woden to Mawson.
Transport Minister Chris Steel said light rail was central to delivering Canberra’s integrated transport network to meet future population growth and support a sustainable and livable city for all Canberrans.
”Light Rail to Woden will serve key employment, tourist and cultural institutions north and south of Lake Burley Griffin, before extending on to the Woden Town Centre,” he said.
The project still requires a further planning approvals from the National Capital Authority and the ACT Planning and Land Authority.
The main environmental concern involved the Golden Sun Moth habitat, which will be dealt with through offsets and a research project.
The impact of the pandemic and the complexity of the project and approvals processes has pushed back the signing of contracts and the construction timetable.
Actual light rail construction will probably start some time in 2022.
The EPBC approval process is also under way for the Stage 2B extension from Commonwealth Park to Woden and is expected to take up to 18 months.
”Studies required for these approvals include detailed analysis of the route, environmental and heritage assessments, and consultation with a range of local and Federal stakeholders,” Mr Steel said.
The project will also need federal parliamentary approval.
Stage 2B design and procurement planning is continuing, focusing on some of the more complex areas of the alignment such as the light rail transitions to and from State Circle in Stage 2B, and assessment of infrastructure near Commonwealth Bridge and Lake Burley Griffin.
Initial estimates had the cost of the whole of Stage 2 at $1.3 billion to 1.6 billion but the figure was now looking more like $2 billion.