Transport Minister Chris Steel has doubled down on light rail stage 2B, saying one way or another the mass transit infrastructure project is coming to Woden.
Mr Steel rejected claims the project was in trouble after technical problems had been found with the preferred State Circle route that could make it unviable and impact costs.
“We always said it was going to be a challenging project but we’re not going to give up,” he said. “We’re going to work milestone by milestone through these challenges.”
The next milestone would be an environmental statement to be submitted next year, for which there will be a public consultation process.
Mr Steel said the government would not rule out any options to get through the Parliamentary Zone.
That includes revisiting the previously rejected deviation off Commonwealth Avenue into Parkes and Barton.
The government’s technical partners looking at the turnoff to State Circle have concerns that its narrowness poses engineering challenges that could be cost-prohibitive.
This has prompted the government to ask the National Capital Authority to re-examine the Barton dogleg option.
The other factor is the surge of public servants expected to be working in Barton in the coming years due to the new National Security Precinct and the movement of other agencies into the area such as the Australian Taxation Office.
“They’re the challenges we’ll be working through as we now start to focus on stage 2B,” Mr Steel said.
He said the works approval for stage 2A to Commonwealth Park was in its final stages and the government hoped to have contracts signed by the end of the year.
With work on raising London Circuit well under way, the government is still expected to start laying track for stage 2A next year.
Mr Steel said the government was now turning its mind to stage 2B, with a budget allocation of $50 million for the planning and early design work to take the project to the environmental impact statement.
He said a project the size of stage 2B faced a number of challenges moving through a sensitive area that had many cultural, heritage and environmental issues that would need to be overcome.
“It’s been really promising that the NCA has been working collaboratively and suggested they’ll be flexible with working with the ACT Government to look at those different options to get light rail down to Woden but also to benefit those tens of thousands of public servants who work in this major employments hub to provide them with access to high-quality mass transit,” Mr Steel said.
He said that the government had also re-established the light rail community reference group made up of local representatives that would be involved in guiding the project through the next milestone and the further approvals required in the national capital area.
The project will need both NCA and parliamentary approval, and the ACT Government is confident the Commonwealth will contribute financially to this stage as it did for stage 2A.
But with the Canberra Liberals determined to scrap stage 2B and further stages altogether, it will be crucial for the government to reassure the community in an election year that the project remains on track.