The ACT Government can celebrate another light rail milestone today after the National Capital Authority gave the green light to the 1.7-kilometre extension to Commonwealth Park via City West.
But work won’t be able to start on the project until the raising of London Circuit is complete in late 2024 or early 2025, although Transport Minister Chris Steel would be hoping tracks could be laid in time for October’s Legislative Assembly election.
The Canberra Liberals have accepted that stage 2A will be built but will dump the fixed mass transit system in favour of buses after that if elected, in effect turning the 2024 election into a referendum on light rail.
The NCA said it considered a variety of different criteria, such as the quality of the public realm, community amenities, environment, heritage and landscape values.
It said key issues raised by the community during the consultation included safety and accessibility; well-designed, comfortable and user-friendly public light rail stops; seamless connections between different modes of transport; careful planning to mitigate congestion, improve traffic flow and minimise disruptions; and the need to reduce the overall impact on the urban environment and public spaces.
Other issues raised by the community during the consultation process had been referred to the ACT Government.
The ACT Government, as the project builder and owner, would consider and decide on matters relating to transport mode selection, alternative options, and project costs, the NCA said.
NCA chief executive Sally Barnes said the extension would provide a much-needed public transport connection between the city centre and Commonwealth Park and help to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality in the city centre.
“The ACT Government is working with the Commonwealth to deliver the biggest infrastructure project in Canberra’s history, and the works approval granted today is a major step in delivering light rail to Woden,” she said.
Minister Steel said that now stage 2A had been approved the government could shift its attention to the longer and more complex leg to Woden across the lake and through the Parliamentary Zone, which the NCA, as well as federal parliament, will also have to approve.
This now means deciding on the alignment after doubts were raised about the viability of the preferred State Circle route and resolving the many technical, heritage and environmental challenges of building light rail to Woden, with public consultation opening next year.
Mr Steel said the light rail extension would be a city-shaping piece of infrastructure that will support thousands of jobs and make Canberra a more sustainable and vibrant city as its population grew.
“The extension of the popular light rail line will transform the southern part of the CBD into a better place for people with public transport connectivity to major employment and recreation precincts in City West, the ANU, City South, Acton Waterfront and Commonwealth Park,” he said.
The Commonwealth, under both the Coalition and Labor governments, have contributed financially to the project, and Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Catherine King also committed to working closely with the ACT on the next stage to Woden.
“We know our national capital is fast growing – and as we plan for the infrastructure needs of tomorrow, it’s important we ensure the future of this great city is consistent with the National Capital Plan,” she said.
“Through extensive public consultation and careful consideration of the required criteria – that’s exactly what the NCA has done – work on this nationally-significant project can continue to progress.”
Stage 2A will run wire-free from Alinga Street along London Circuit to a new level intersection with Commonwealth Park.
Three new stops are planned – at Edinburgh Avenue, City South and Commonwealth Park.
Public consultation was held from 28 March 2023 to 11 May 2023, and 68 submissions were received.