5 February 2021

Light rail Stage 2A track down by 2024 election despite delays, says Steel

| Ian Bushnell
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Andrew Barr and Chris Steel

Hurdle cleared: a happy Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Transport Minister Chris Steel mark the federal environmental approval in Civic. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Transport Minister Chris Steel is insisting that track will be laid on London Circuit before the next election in October 2024 but the ACT Government remains vague about the timeline for light rail Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park after overcoming the major hurdle of federal environment approval.

Neither Mr Steel nor Chief Minister Andrew Barr would be pinned down on when actual construction would start other than to say the enabling work of raising London Circuit to the level of Commonwealth Avenue will commence in 2021-22.

Given the two-year construction period for that piece of work, the 1.7 km light rail project itself might be pushed out beyond 2024. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has already caused delays, and the signing of contracts had been expected in mid-2020.

Although one hurdle has been overcome, Stage 2A still requires National Capital Authority and ACT Planning approvals before the government is in a position to sign contracts.

Mr Steel said the government was already working with the NCA and planning authority on the next steps and hoped to be able to present the NCA with a final document as soon as possible.

Public Transport Association of Canberra chair Ryan Hemsley welcomed the approval as an important milestone and said the government probably needed to know what requirements the NCA may impose that could affect the cost of the project before signing any contracts, but he still expected to see light rail on London Circuit by the 2024 election.

”I suspect it comes down to NCA works approval,” he said.

”There are no real concerns; however, I suspect that NCA will want quite a deal of additional information noting the significance of the project with respect to precincts under their control.”

Approval conditions relate to managing the habitat of the Golden Sun Moth and the government providing offsets.

Mr Barr advised patience, saying the government will make more announcements in coming weeks that will provide more clarity.

Mr Hemsley said there were inevitable delays in all major projects, and the government may have got a ”bit burned” with Stage 1.

”I suspect there will be a whole series of unknowns with respect to utilities relocation and other servicing matters around London Circuit which might be causing some hesitancy in the government with regard to timelines for Stage 2A,” he said.

He believed there was a push in government to ensure the staging is done in a way that complementary projects can occur simultaneously where possible.

Stage 2A along London Circuit

An artist’s impression of Stage 2A along London Circuit. Image: ACT Government.

Mr Barr said the project would be disruptive to the southern end of the city for the next three or four years but the work would enable land release and a number of other projects to be undertaken.

The $137 million Commonwealth Bridge upgrade and the ongoing Acton Waterfront will also be occurring.

”We will seek to work with them to align the most disruptive works so they don’t all occur at once, and doesn’t stretch out over an extended period,” he said.

Mr Hemsley said the interim traffic arrangements for the raising of London Circuit may affect the ability of the government to start work on light rail itself at the beginning of the route.

”It might be undesirable to have other parts of the city closed for simultaneous work,” he said.

”We will be pushing the government about what those traffic arrangements will be because they will affect buses travelling from the south. There are a number of rapid routes that use Commonwealth Avenue where it traverses London Circuit.”

Mr Steel said the government was working with businesses along the route to minimise disruption but light rail would have long-term economic benefits, and benefits for public transport as the city grew.

Mr Barr said 2A would provide another north-south route through the city and the raising of London Circuit would restore the road to what it was in the 1960s, and closer to what the Griffins originally intended.

He said it was the culmination of 20 years’ planning and would support the city as it grew down towards the lake.

There is $2.1 million in next week’s Budget for early design work to raise London Circuit as well as $1 million for a feasibility study on extending light rail even further from Woden to Mawson.

Work is proceeding on an Environmental Impact Statement for Stage 2B to Woden to meet EPBC requirements, which will include community consultation.

Stage 2B will also need NCA and federal parliamentary approval but Mr Hemsley said the project may not necessarily be pushed out further, saying work could start earlier on sections near Woden that were not subject to federal approval.

”It would have been a smart idea to start on a section of Woden that doesn’t require federal approval as soon as possible,” he said.

”And keep an eye on the Mawson extension given the works to duplicate Athllon Drive, where some of those [light rail and road] works might occur in tandem.”

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Assuming it creeps to the northern end of Commonwealth Avenue by, say, 2025 at the earliest, will the government then claim it as a southside project because you can see the other side of the lake from the station?

Leon Arundell9:04 am 17 Feb 21

Apparently the ACT Government is so flush with funds that it can afford to invest in Stage 2A, which will provide only forty cents worth of benefits for each dollar that it costs.
That figure is at page 145 of the Stage 2A business case.

If our first northern side tram hoovered up so much cash (as Mr Stanhope has mentioned ) that our health system is feeling it, imagine whats going to happen when the tram to the south side starts.

Already initial estimates had the cost of the whole of Stage 2 at $1.3 billion, then up to 1.6 billion , and now the figure being quoted is around 2 billion. And this is a figure quoted Feb 2021.

Anyone care to put any money on it remaining at 2 bill?
I couldn’t help but think of a few quotes from the Aussie film ”the castle ‘.
‘tell ‘im he’s dreamin’ and ‘get your hand off it Daryl’.

Compare the ACT’s stage 1 to the recent light rail in Sydney – the ACT’s was much closer to time and budget. Could it have been done better? Sure, but it was done way better than our nearest neighbours. It’s also promising that they are looking at making a start on the parts of the next stages that aren’t subject to NCA approval – hopefully this will improve the timeline too.

You have some validity to your point MERC – but Mr “I must protect my legacy’ Stanhope has been somewhat disingenuous with some of his commentary too, presenting it as if the Government has to find the money upfront to pay for it the light rail, and at times presenting money not even spent at the time (i.e. a future commitment) as some sort of evidence of ‘they are cutting money from the health system now to pay for it’, even at a time when the Territory has no net savings and has a lot of debt. That element of his argument is weak at best.

None of that is to say that I think light rail is worth it or a good idea – but don’t believe everything is as prima facie with the man desperate to try and paint his time in office as the ‘good old days’….

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