Ambulances will still run along Kitchener Street and Gilmore Crescent past Garran Public School to get to the new Emergency Department at Canberra Hospital but a design change will mean less traffic on this route, according to the ACT Government.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith has announced updates to the proposed design for the $500 million SPIRE project, as well as a short list of two – Lend Lease and Multiplex – for the build of the hospital expansion.
The design changes will see an all-weather connection from SPIRE across Hospital Road to the main entrance, which will be re-located to the current Emergency Department entrance on Yamba Drive.
Major Projects Chief Project Officer Duncan Edghill said this would position the ED within the new facility at the southern section of Hospital Road, where the ED public entrance will now be sited, instead of on Palmer Street.
Diverting public ED presentations to Hospital Road, along with the removal of the northern car park, would reduce traffic on Gilmour Crescent, while ambulances, which according to modelling make up only a small percentage of traffic, would still access the ED from Palmer Street.
While the Garran community was worried about ambulances on suburban streets, Mr Edgehill said its primary concern had been the expected traffic generated by public presentations to the ED, particularly near the school.
Ambulances would not be speeding and would obey school zone speed limits, he said.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the new arrangements should allay the community’s concerns.
“Ambulances travel in suburban streets every day of the week,” she said. “They drive through school zones, traffic lights, roundabouts and ambulance drivers are some of the best-trained drivers in the community.
“We are working closely with the ambulance service to ensure that the arrangements meet the concerns of ambulance staff and are not going to be disruptive to the local community.”
But Liberals health spokesperson Vicki Dunne said changes would create transport chaos, expose young school children to risk and limit the future functionality of the ACT’s health services.
“Closing Hospital Road will add to the traffic chaos especially when there is no parking plan for patients self-presenting to the Emergency Department,” she said.
Woden Valley Community Council president Fiona Carrick said the change disconnected the north and south of the hospital campus.
“This is a bad outcome for connectivity within the hospitial campus and is likely to transfer traffic form Palmer Street to Gilmour Crescent,” she said.
But Ms Stephen-Smith said the fresh design would provide better amenity and connections within the hospital, as well a safer environment for pedestrians.
“Having this enclosed link means that for visitors, families, patients and clinicians, they have a weatherproof link between the major part of the hospital and the SPIRE project,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“Also having the main entrance facing on to Yamba Drive makes a lot of sense for people to come in off Yamba Drive, drop people off, and progress to the carpark.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said the design updates were informed by discussions with the community, clinicians and consumer groups.
“We are still in the early stages of the design process, we’re still working with the community through all of the issues that people are raising with us, whether they are clinicians, consumers, visitors or local community members, and we will continue to listen,” she said.
But the essential structure of SPIRE itself was locked in as the project moved towards finalising who would build it.
Ms Stephen-Smith said there had been five applicants to build SPIRE and both the short-listed companies were highly experienced industry experts who had delivered several landmark projects across Australia, including hospitals and healthcare facilities.
“The standard of the applicants in the initial Expressions of Interest phase was exceptionally high. It was encouraging to see industry heavyweights, such as the two shortlisted, so eager to be involved in building essential infrastructure in the ACT.”