24 November 2022

Territory funding row over choice between light rail or road upgrades

| Lottie Twyford
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It’s been a wet, pothole-filled year, with more deaths on the roads than in any other since 2010. Photo: James Coleman.

The ACT Government has once again been slammed for its supposed confused priorities after millions of dollars in federal funding was diverted away from road upgrades to light rail instead.

According to the Labor Government, the funding – which was allocated under the Morrison Coalition government was “all pork” as the projects lacked detail and substance.

In response, the Canberra Liberals say that’s exactly their problem with light rail.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee tried to force the ACT Government to write to the Federal Government to ask for the road upgrade funding back. Photo: Region.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee earlier this week (Tuesday, 22 November) sought to force the Government to write to their Commonwealth counterparts and ask them to reinstate the diverted $85.9 million of roads funding back to its original purpose.

The funding was first allocated to upgrading the South West Corridor, Boboyan Road and Pialligo Avenue.

That attempt was voted down by the Government.

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In return, it has been accused of caring more about the tram than road safety in a year in which Canberra’s road toll already stands at a 12-year high.

“When will it end? Since 2015, this Government has taken funding away from health, housing, police and now road upgrades to help pay for the tram,” Ms Lee told the Assembly.

“Not only is road safety and maintenance an important responsibility of the ACT Government but most Canberrans are road users as motorists, passengers … and rightly expect our roads to be maintained.

“Instead, we’re getting roads filled with potholes which this Government cannot fix because they are so strapped for cash.”

When asked whether she believed it was appropriate to conflate the issues of road funding and road deaths, Ms Lee said it was.

Chris steel

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel in response listed a variety of road upgrades that are underway across the Territory. Photo: ACT Government.

The Opposition Leader described the tram as the Barr Government’s “white elephant” and accused Transport Minister Chris Steel of having hypocritically welcomed the funding for the road upgrades when they were first announced.

Mr Steel has now argued he will always welcome funding for infrastructure in the Territory but these specific projects had problems with them.

He said the ACT Government had urged for the roads funding to be used for upgrading Parkes Way, not the South West Corridor project.

Mr Steel told the Assembly that road infrastructure was important for all pedestrians and in fact “critical” for keeping up with the city’s growth.

He listed a range of projects underway including upgrading the Monaro Highway, building the John Gorton Bridge and duplicating Athllon Drive as examples of this, saying it was important the right projects were pursued.

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It was also stressed by the Government that the decision to reallocate the funding had been made by the Commonwealth.

“The Australian Government’s decision to redirect the remainder of funding to other projects for the time being also reflects the reality that we cannot undertake major upgrades to all of the roads to the city from the Southside … at the same time as tearing up the Tuggeranong Parkway,” he said.

Finally, Mr Steel stressed work, including reclassifying the ACT’s roads, was still underway on how to fund upgrades to Boboyan Road and the Government had already committed to partly funding some upgrades to it.

But he said the Pialligo Avenue works were seen as “abortive” as that entire road may need to be moved in the future.

Mr Steel said the Liberals failed to understand more infrastructure funding was needed than for roads alone.

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All the local media outlets know intuitively what will stir up the knuckle scrapers to view their sites: Just mention THE TRAM and out they come, right on cue.

Adam Sturgeon1:15 am 01 Dec 22

Why am I not surprised, it’s always the best NIMBYs that say instead of having better public transportation that actually serves the community, let’s have better roads and connections that serve ourselves, The whole point of having the tram was to get people off the road And also to re-allocate bus kilometres from Northbourne Avenue So we can have more buses going more places More often, because not everybody is going to be having an electric vehicle by 2050 so we might as well start by electrifying something

CraigFromCurtin5:30 pm 01 Dec 22

And with good justification bigred. I’ m a fanatical rail fan, but the cost for this little country town is prohibitively ridiculous. No change from a BILLION dollars for stage 1, which serves only a MINORITY of the citizens. And the destruction of London Cct and its traffic flow is criminal. And what do all the trams do after 9:30am – go back to the shed to sleep. Do NOT get me started. The “knuckle scrapers” as you denigrate them have great justification.

thoughtsonthesubject11:57 pm 27 Nov 22

The tram is not just a white elephant it is also responsible for the death of people. Not upgrading these roads where a large amount of traffic accidents has taken place is likely to lead to new fatalities. Moreover, the large expense of the tram has resulted in essential public services being run down. Our hospitals have the longest waiting time in emergency in Australia. Two children died when there was no doctor available in emergency to attend to them until it was too late. Now someone has be murdered by a fellow patient in a psychiatric ward. That would not have been possible if psychiatric patients were properly supervised.
Did the respective ministers neglect their duties in ascertaining that these life and death areas of our health system were properly staffed? Or did they bring the state of critical understaffing to the attention of our local government and were refused the necessary finance for improvement? Surely this matter needs a public inquiry with those not living up to their responsibilities being sacked. These incidents being brushed unter the table after a few newspaper articles and week apologies to the bereaved further speaks loudly of the priorities of our local government.

William Newby8:00 am 26 Nov 22

The Tram Scam gets little support from your average Canberran.
If a poll were conducted I’d be surprised if it was supported by 33% of our population.
More evidence that Labor and Greens don’t care what the voters want done with OUR money.
Barr knows best?

Most support a light rail system and voted for it in two elections. A small noisy group won’t accept the will of the people.

The Canberra Liberals called 2 elections in a row a “referendum on light rail” and were comprehensively beaten both times.

As recently seen, we know you are big on people backing up their claims.

So you can provide a link showing how people voted on the specific question of whether they supported light rail at two elections right?

I have seen a couple of surveys and both showed favour for light rail, although one only just.
“New ACT government-commissioned research has found 55 per cent of Canberra residents support the construction of a light rail system for the city, with opposition to tram services strongest in suburbs including Kambah, Curtin, Garran and Hughes. A telephone survey of 1192 people throughout the ACT found 34 per cent do not support the roll-out of a city-wide light rail network and 11 per cent remain undecided.”

“Support for the tram line was at 49 per cent among the more than 7000 participants in the latest Canberra Times online survey conducted last week. Opposition sat at 47 per cent, with four per cent undecided.”

And your surveys. You must have one to make the claim you do…don’t you?

The claim was that people voted at two elections specifically for light rail.

Your links don’t even come close to backing that claim up, funnily enough showing how split the surveyed support actually is.

The evidence is in the policies presented to voters prior to the election. That’s how our system works. If you object to a major policy proposal by a political party then don’t vote for them, pretty simple really and has serviced us well. The proposal for a light rail network was a major plank of the ACT Labor government’s policy. Happy to provide any links if you weren’t there at the time or don’t remember them.

So you admit that your claim was false and that no election specifically asked people to vote for or against light rail.

Glad that we could clear that up.

The second link quote, “Seventy-four per cent of participants in a new survey on light rail say the $783 million tram line will influence their vote, “

There were some supposedly independent surveys before light rail started that showed a slight majority of Canberrans supporting light rail.

Then it came out that the ACT Government had a hand in devising the questions and some of them were clearly ‘leading questions’ that encouraged a positive response.

The Government stopped the surveys after the story broke and stopped funding the research company afterwards. A truly independent survey on Light Rail stage 2 would probably be wise. It might help shut up either side of the debate.

As for using an ACT Election result as proof for Light Rail support. I think there’s more than a decent chance that Labor Greens would have won the last few elections even if they didn’t promise light rail. Like me, I’m sure others know people who don’t like light rail but won’t vote Liberal.

Yes thank you, the key word being “influence”.

Well done on showing once again that there was no election where people voted on light rail specifically.

No mate, you didn’t read the post properly. I think you are confused about how elections work in a democratic system. The electric light rail network proposal was a major plank of two elections. The ACT government took their proposal to the voters via the elections. Voters supported the proposal by voting for the party that put it forward. That’s how democracy works.

No champ, it is clearly you who doesnt understand how our elections work.

You made a claim that clearly isn’t backed up by evidence because you overstated a position that is not remotely how our democratic elections work. You can provide no supporting evidence to back the claim and there has been no light rail referendum.

We do not vote on single issues and as BJ says, it’s almost certain that the ALP Greens would have been voted in regardless.

This can easily be seen by the elections prior to light rail being a thing and the fact that all major parties took a platform of light rail support to the last election, yet the Liberals actually lost ground despite changing their position.

Almost like there are many other issues and policies at play.

No i don’t agree with you that light rail wasn’t’ a major policy plank of those elections. It’s a major infrastructure investment and there was no equivalent issue to light rail. You’ll get the chance to express your opinion at the next election. You can start an anti-light rail party if you like, that’s the beauty of democracy.

Can’t see where anyone has said it wasn’t a major policy Astro, so not sure who you are disagreeing with.

Your claim was that we voted for it at 2 elections. We clearly did not.

Try again.

I’d be prepared to give up the hope of riding the bright red train in exchange for the government mowing the long grass.

HiddenDragon7:26 pm 25 Nov 22

“The Opposition Leader described the tram as the Barr Government’s “white elephant”

Good to see Elizabeth Lee not bowing down to the state religion (as the ACT government is clearly attempting to make it) of light rail and pointing out the mounting toll of trade-offs which have been necessitated by the obsession with one very costly and very inflexible form of transport.

The road network might look good but, I suspect it was poorly built – especially before self-govt. So, now we are stuck with the cost of maintaining roads which break after the first period of good rain. It is going to cost a bomb and many roads will have to be re-built e.g. Sulwood Drive. The tram looks good for the public transport junkies but, really, half that much on the buses would have been much more effective.

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