14 September 2022

Should Parkes Way be made into an underground tunnel?

| Lottie Twyford
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traffic on Parkes Way

Parkes Way is one of the city’s only east-to-west arterial roads. Some want it to be buried. Photo: ACT Government.

In all the noise and hullabaloo surrounding the recent news the Territory Government is all but dumping the idea of a city stadium, you could be forgiven for having missed one of the reasons why.

That was thanks to a big highway that would need to be moved if a stadium were to be built on the site of the current Civic Pool.

Convenor of community organisation Greater Canberra, Howard Maclean, is advocating for an even more drastic step than just moving Parkes Way.

He wants it buried and turned into a tunnel instead, to free up all of the space it’s currently occupying.

“The big problem with Parkes Way and its cloverleaves is that they take up too much space and cut the city off from the lake,” Mr Maclean explained.

“It means people who are in the city can’t easily use the lake and Commonwealth Park without having to go over one of those narrow pedestrian bridges or hopping in the car.

“This problem will always persist so long as Parkes Way is there. It’s not going away in 50 years and it’s not going away in 1000 years unless something is done.”

Canberra city original plans

The original plans for the city centre of Canberra didn’t have a Parkes Way in them. Photo: National Library of Australia.

The first section of what is now one of the city’s only east-to-west arterial roads opened to traffic in 1961. Subsequent sections opened in 1963 and 1979.

Mr Maclean described Parkes Way as having been inspired by traffic consultants’ visits to America, where highways were everywhere.

But it was never envisaged in Walter Burley Griffin’s original plans for the city.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, getting rid of Parkes Way or changing it somehow resurfaced often as an idea.

In a 2015 City to the Lake document, the Suburban Land Agency described it as an undesirable environment for building address and frontage and said the barrier of the road needed to be “overcome”.

“Parkes Way, in physical design and high-speed vehicle environment, creates a barrier between the city, Lake Burley Griffin and its Parkland. Grade separation and a lack of crossing points make this environment alienating to pedestrians, cyclists, and local traffic,” the document read.

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And the Government has seriously considered doing something about it.

But the most recent set of plans was largely scuppered in 2016 when a business case presented to the government determined that the costs of doing so (about $460 million in 2014, likely $550m-plus now, according to Mr Maclean’s estimates) would far outweigh the benefits.

But Mr Maclean said this didn’t take into account the long-term benefits of the so-called “space creation project” and the traditional 30-year period for cost-benefit analysis is too short.

“The main benefits are about enabling the expansion of the city to meet the lake. You’re creating a whole lot of land that can be used for schools, for homes and places people want to be. It’s about imagining a larger city,” he said.

“Those places you create are never going to go away … which means there’s never going to be a point where we decide to tear up the neighbourhoods that we’ve built there.”

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Mr Maclean is worried that the issue of burying Parkes Way will continue to rear its head at regular intervals in the future and it will keep on being stomped on as too expensive and not worth it – just like the city stadium tends to.

It needed action, he said, particularly as Canberra grew.

But there’s at least one benefit to a growing population – the more people you have, the more benefit land brings to the city.

A spokesperson for the Government said it was not currently considering lowering Parkes Way or turning it into a tunnel.

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Seriously. Just wait out the road works nightmare for London Circuit, light rail to the Lake and the Commonwealth Avenue bridge ‘upgrade’ and then decide if it would be a good idea to dig a kilometres long hole for commuters and truck drivers.

Visionary transformational thinking. Too much narrow-minded short-term-thinking in the comments.
Let’s do it.

Narrow footbridges? How fat are these people?
If people aren’t walking there now, they’re not going to walk there just because the footbridge is wider. It’s much too far for a Canberran to walk (those people that park illegally on the footpath outside the gym to avoid walking an extra 20m).

William Newby9:08 pm 14 Sep 22

Yes a tunnel, that would be extremely affordable? And would help ease the daily grid-lock traffic that we frequently experience? And could be paid off quickly by the millions of tax payers that live in the ACT?

The city is a stagnate pile of …

Lake Burley Griffen is not some grand lake to look at, it’s purely there because it marks out the area that would normally flood. You could probably walk across it in most places.

What’s really needed is a bypass of the city from GDE to Adelaide av under the lake. Taking some pressure off the city to do traffic management. Tunnel under the lake.

Instead of sinking parks way. The land over it should just be developed over forming a tunnel out of buildings and walkways until its 100% covered.

HiddenDragon7:33 pm 14 Sep 22

File this under the same heading as the plan (cerebral flatus) from about 15 years ago to turn Northbourne into the Champs Elysee and connect it to the Lake – and with the news that the ATO is moving to the other side of said body of water, there will be a few thousand fewer free spirits and nature’s children looking to disport themselves on the verdant northern foreshores of it sparkling waters…….

Tom Worthington1:55 pm 14 Sep 22

An “underground” tunnel? What other sort is there? 😉

Or were you suggesting cut and cover? That is, rather than dig a tunnel below the existing ground level, cut a shallow trench, build a concrete box over it, and pile dirt on top.

ChrisinTurner1:24 pm 14 Sep 22

Our main north-south sewer goes under Parkes Way. Can’t be moved I understand.

One day, we as a wealthy country will realise that, like art, valuable things just need to be done. We can’t price scenic pride, but we can sure value it. Expunge Parkes Way (and it’s grungy mate the Cahill Expressway – a nod to Jeffery Smart, 1962).

That is the main problem with Walter Burley Griffin’s original plans for the city. He never envisaged that a major east west link would be required or that there would be other town centres or that just about everybody would have at least one car or that Canberra’s population would get to be what it is or………………

The majority of the issue of Parkes way is down to traffic coming from the airport direction turning into Coranderrk St. Every time a car turns, that’s Parkes way needing to stop. Then cars bank up at the traffic lights and spill out across the roundabout, then it takes a full traffic light sequence to move them on. Then it keeps going on until traffic is banked up past GLI.

Prevent traffic going into Coranderrk and it’ll just shift the issue elsewhere.

With what money exactly?

Mr Maclean must enjoy paying taxes. I can’t see this ever happening or being remotely near any government’s list of priorities. I’m also surprised at the $460-560m cost quoted, given how much other infrastructure costs, I’d think much more. Sure, Parkes way is a barrier, and a bit of an eyesore, but to retrofit a tunnel would be akin to unscrambling an egg.

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