Light rail may yet find its way through Parkes and Barton, with the National Capital Authority open to a change in route after advice that there may be technical problems with the current one.
NCA CEO Sally Barnes said ACT officials working on the project had flagged that the narrowness of the road veering left into State Circle from Commonwealth Avenue could pose engineering and cost challenges.
She said they had asked the NCA if an alternative route across the parliamentary zone could be looked at, and it would.
“The heritage aspects of going across the parliamentary zone would need to be addressed carefully,” she said.
Her comments come ahead of the imminent approval from the NCA of Stage 2A from Alinga Street in the city to Commonwealth Park, with a consultation report expected in days.
The original 2B route proposals had gone along King George Terrace past Old Parliament House and into Barton, but the hurdles posed by the area’s heritage values prompted the ACT Government to opt for a more direct route along State Circle past Parliament House on the edge of Barton.
But Ms Barnes said a lot had changed since 2018, specifically the coming move of thousands of public servants into Barton for the national security precinct and new agency buildings such as the Tax Office.
She said these new workers would need efficient public transport to serve them as quickly as possible.
It was also part of the NCA’s remit to encourage public transport to make it easier for people to get to the national cultural institutions, Ms Barnes said.
“We really need to get the public transport system working efficiently for all the people who both want to work in this area and also want to come to the national cultural institutions,” Ms Barnes said.
So if the ACT Government was having difficulties with the current route, the NCA would see if there was another way to get it closer to the institutions and where people worked in a way that protected the heritage value, she said.
“We need to do the work now to get it to the best possible standard because its such a huge investment, and if it’s not done properly it could be such a scar on the landscape or an inefficient system,” she said.
Ms Barnes also confirmed that the under the current plans, the nearly 100-year-old cedar trees in the median of Commonwealth Avenue would have to make way for the light rail tracks.
Ms Barnes said that when the ACT Government finally lodged a Works Approval, the NCA could assess it relatively quickly, given the WA for 2A came in last February, went out to consultation on 28 March and was now almost ready for approval.
“Once we’ve got all the documents, all the technical details are worked through, the heritage aspects worked through, we can be very efficient and do the public consultation and work through any of the issues as quickly as possible,” she said.
But that may be years off, given the complexity of the project and the multiple approvals required.