14 August 2023

Turn Parkes Way into a tunnel? NCA says it would be fantastic

| James Coleman
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traffic on Parkes Way

Parkes Way is one of the city’s only east to west arterial roads. Some want it buried. Photo: ACT Government.

An old idea to turn one of Canberra’s major arterial roads into a tunnel has resurfaced again, albeit now with in-principle support from the National Capital Authority (NCA).

ACT senator David Pocock revealed his “vision for Canberra” at the Canberra Region Tourism Advisory Forum on Tuesday 1 August, including plans to send a significant length of Parkes Way “underground”.

“The lake is the stunning centrepiece around which Canberra was designed – it should not be separated from the city by a four-lane dual carriageway,” he said.

The plan would tunnel roughly 3 km along the length of Parkes Way, starting at Edinburgh Avenue, continuing past Anzac Parade and re-emerging before Kings Avenue.

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This, Mr Pocock argued, would “help realise the internal logic of Griffin’s original vision for Canberra” while also creating space for “dozens” of mixed-use developments ripe with cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and residences “sloping down toward the grass-lined lakefront”.

The sale of this land would also “entirely offset” the cost of the project.

Sound idyllic? It has for years.

Convenor of community organisation Greater Canberra, Howard Maclean, has advocated for burying Parkes Way ever since the ACT Government first dumped plans for a new stadium in Civic in September 2022.

“The big problem with Parkes Way and its cloverleaves is that they take up too much space and cut the city off from the lake,” Mr Maclean told Region at the time.

“It means people who are in the city can’t easily use the lake and Commonwealth Park without having to go over one of those narrow pedestrian bridges or hopping in the car.”

City to lake

An artist’s impression of a new “connected” lakefront. Photo: Hill Thalis / Ross Caddaye / ACT Government.

The NCA, which manages the lake and adjacent lands on behalf of the Federal Government, has now chimed in with its support, despite an initial vague statement about how it’s “committed to creating a national capital of which all Australians can be proud”.

“Free and open public spaces, created in a sustainable way and alive with activity, recreational and sporting festivals, and thoughtful and respectful commemoration, all play a part in securing such a city,” the statement read.

NCA CEO Sally Barnes went on 2CC radio on 4 August to say her planning team had looked over Pocock’s proposal and their “first gut reaction was, ‘This would be great'”.

“Burying Parkes Way is not a new idea, but it’s a bold idea and one that might be too expensive,” she said.

“But if you look at it from a planning perspective, Parkes Way was never in the original Griffin plan. It came about when we all got motor cars … but if you were starting again, putting Parkes Way under and having a more gentle way to reach Commonwealth Park would be fantastic.”

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The NCA has yet to conduct any cost estimate on the proposal, but Ms Barnes hinted at the fact it wouldn’t come cheap.

“If it were a perfect world, we had lots of money, and you thought about how you might enhance the area, it would be nice.”

So far, the ACT Government has matched the $2.5 million provided by the Australian Government to investigate future improvements to Parkes Way, between Glenloch Interchange and Kings Avenue.

In 2013, then Chief Minister Katy Gallagher unveiled a ‘City to Lake Vision’ including plans to link the city to the lakefront by sending a portion of Parkes Way underground. At the time, the government was told it would create enough new land to cover the costs, and then some.

A 2013 report estimated the government could make $386 million on land sales by burying Parkes Way. Photo: File.

A report estimated the cost of the project (along with works on Commonwealth Avenue and West Basin) at $210 million, with a 40 per cent contingency. Within five to seven years, approximately $386 million would return to the government’s coffers in block sales.

“This equates to less than 50 per cent of the development potential unlocked by the initial infrastructure investment,” it read.

However, less than a year later in 2014, another report said the project would cost $460 million. Given inflation since then, this estimate would be more like $550 million.

The government now says it is not considering lowering Parkes Way “at this stage”, even if parts of Pocock’s vision do overlap with a plan to “relieve traffic congestion, increase freight productivity and improve safety”.

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This proposal will close regular viewing to all but a privileged few.

The vast majority of Canberran’s and visitors only regularly see the lake and the resulting panoramas as they drive along Parks Way or the two avenues. If you drive along Constitution Avenue (the road that is the official base of the Parliamentary Triangle) you see sweet FA. It’s symbolic meaning has been buried and lost in development.

In my early days in Canberra I boarded at Hotel Acton. In those days before the road was built, we could walk down lawns from Hotel Acton to the lake. It was lovely.

Linda Seaniger4:51 pm 12 Aug 23

I agree with Bloke48. More road interference while the inefficient & expensive tram is built is pure madness . Do we employ any qualified town planners in the ACT.

We do realise that “…the sale of the land will more than pay for the works…” means heaps more apartments along Parkes Way.…and at least a couple of years of total chaos on the most important roads in Canberra, don’t we?

Good grief! That’s all cost and no benefit. If there’s such a thing as negative credibility, Pocock’s got it.

HiddenDragon7:40 pm 11 Aug 23

The drum beat continues.

It will be very interesting to see if the ACT Liberals get sucked into supporting this, with a stadium and/or convention centre as part of the mirage, as a “think big” policy for the 2024 election – could be a really good way of convincing weary, wavering voters that the alternative would be even worse than four more years of the eternal Labor/Green cluster.

If the trajectory of ACT land values continues on anything like its current course, particularly when interest rates start easing, there might come a time when the claims that this plan would more than pay for itself will be more plausible than at present.

Might be best to keep it in the back pocket/land bank until then.

A great idea – similar in nature to former P.M .Paul Keating’s idea to bury the Cahill expressway and the railway lines at Circular Key in Sydney – would be very expensive but worth it in the long run like the plan to build the Sydney Opera House.

Is that a fact ?…..I wonder in which direction Keating, the master architect, would have redirected ~10,000 cars a day ?

Perth did a similar thing and it has reinvigorated what was a dying foreshore area. This is an opportunity to think big and do big things to improve the civic area of Canberra. The new light rail is already the perfect start for this type of redevelopment. The stadium SHOULD be centrally located for greater use and enjoyment.

$$$$Billions – just rolls off the tongues of slippery politicians

Stanleyhistory1:10 pm 11 Aug 23

What a waste of money! This is the first turkey that Senator Pocock has come up with. Forget it! Of course it will cost more and take longer than planned. Send the idea to the script-writers of Utopia – it’d keep them going for an entire series. We have more pressing problems to fix first – such as the scandalous upkeep of the city’s aging infrastructure. And don’t let it get anywhere near Barr & Co. – of course Geocon would get the contract.

That’s what happens when your only life experience is throwing a ball around

GrumpyGrandpa11:14 am 11 Aug 23

It doesn’t really create “free and open space”, if the project is funded by the sale of the land above.

Let’s see if the business case is any more viable than LR’s business case. Sadly, I expect its just another grandious scheme.

We all do realise that “…the sale of the land above…” means apartments, don’t we? …and we all realise that there will be at least two years of utter chaos while it happens, don’t we?

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