No matter where one stands on the light rail issue, everyone agrees that the next stage to Commonwealth Park and beyond to Woden is going to cost a motza.
Last week’s announcement that the Cabinet had backed the business case for Stage 2A and the Government was getting on with extending light rail didn’t come with a price tag due to commercial negotiations with the operator of Stage 1, Canberra Metro.
It makes sense to stick with Canberra Metro and maintain continuity and consistency along the light rail route. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel but the Government rightly wants to get the best deal it can, so it can’t logically flag how much it thinks the project, including the raising of London Circuit, will cost.
The question is, and the Canberra Liberals will no doubt be raising it, can the ACT afford it?
The Government believes it can, and, with the community on board for Stage 1 and the cost benefit ratio tipped to be the same for Stage 2 (1:2), it sees light rail as a long-term economic generator and electoral winner.
But we are a small jurisdiction, with limited revenue options and growing demands on services.
So it would be to the ACT’s advantage for it to get all the help it can to roll out light rail, which many should remember was aided in Stage 1 by the Abbott Government’s asset recycling scheme.
The May election dashed the ACT’s hopes of a Commonwealth windfall from a Shorten government, but the parlous state of the national economy and calls for more infrastructure spending offers a fresh opportunity for some of that possible treasure to come our way.
Perhaps there was something in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reported supportive nod to Chief Minister Andrew Barr last week on light rail.
The trip to Woden will go though Commonwealth land and service Commonwealth employees, and with its popularity no longer in doubt, the case for an economy-boosting infrastructure project is strong, even if it is in the ‘Canberra bubble’.
The raising of London Circuit to create a new level intersection with Commonwealth Avenue will also provide a new gateway entry to the City and assist with the long-sought re-imagining of its southern flank, and is worthy of support from a national capital perspective.
The other way the Commonwealth can come to the party on cost is to minimise some of the conditions it might attach to the project, particularly the amount of wire-free running required, at least in the City to Commonwealth Park leg.
Nobody wants to see the project waved through and the legitimate heritage and environmental concerns ignored, but a cooperative approach would save time and money.
With the success of Stage 1, and the Government rightly points to passenger numbers being way ahead of expectations, communities across Canberra now recognise light rail’s benefits and are clamouring for their own lines.
The Commonwealth should help facilitate through its planning arms the next stages and the Morrison Government should come to the party as part of a much-needed infrastructure boost to the national economy.
Locally the Canberra Liberals should keep the Government honest and accountable but accept the fact that light rail is now the public transport future of the ACT and stop being a drag on progress.
ACT Senator Zed Seselja should be talking to his leader about a light rail deal that would be good for ACT taxpayers and the future livability and prosperity of the national capital.
It is right that light rail is moving forward but the ACT shouldn’t have to go it alone to get the job done.