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.
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.
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.
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.
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.