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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Liberals backtrack on light rail

The Canberra Liberals have back flipped on a recent surprise call to ditch Woden as the next light rail destination in favour of a Belconnen–City–airport route, after criticism from industry and community.

Liberals spokesperson for transport Candice Burch told an election forum on Tuesday night her party would conduct a feasibility study on the next route before making a commitment, but “anecdotally” there was support in the community for the Belconnen-airport option.

However, Liberals leader Alastair Coe told ABC Radio Canberra this morning (Thursday 17 September), “the next stage of light rail will be from City to Woden”.

The apparent retracing of steps came after Master Builders ACT said the ACT Liberals’ “last minute change” which would set back construction of the infrastructure by years.

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said they agreed with the Prime Minister and the Governor of the Reserve Bank to increase infrastructure spending and support the nearly 20,000 workers in the local construction industry. 

“Our industry needs certainty of the work pipeline ahead, and Tuesday’s announcement will send a shockwave through the hundreds of local companies that had expectations of helping build Canberra’s biggest infrastructure project,” Mr Hopkins said.

“In the middle of the deepest recession many Canberrans will experience in their lifetime, we need all candidates focused on creating jobs and supporting our economy. The construction industry can play a leading role in creating jobs. 

“Based on the policies announced so far in the 2020 campaign, the gravity of the economic challenge ahead for the ACT is not yet understood by candidates.

“The ACT will need investment in infrastructure equivalent to the Woden route plus the Belconnen route to replace the jobs that will be lost over the medium term.”

In a week that marked a milestone of five million passengers in 18 months for the first stage of the light rail, Canberra Weekly asked Canberrans in Garema Place in the CBD for their thoughts and found a variety of strong responses.

Tradies Cameron Craig and Oscar Rgnetik were adamant it needs to go to the southside.

“It’s got to go at least to Woden,” Cameron said.

“Belconnen is just ludicrous,” Oscar said. “Bring it to the southside, that makes sense.”

As baristas, Addi and Isabel’s day starts early and they both drive into Civic to take advantage of the empty car park, a luxury that costs them $70 a week.

Isabel said she didn’t mind where the next stop was because despite living near the existing route, she didn’t use it.

“I would have to drive to Gungahlin and park my car, then wait for the tram,” Isabel said.

“It adds so much time, I would have to get up at 5am and leave by 5.30am.”

Luke didn’t elaborate on why but was keen to see the next stop go to the airport either from the City or from Belconnen.

Aimee has kids and is a late starter to work. She pays $250 a week for central car park and, despite living in Belconnen, she said it made sense to extend the light rail to the southside.

“I think it’s unfair for the northside to get all the glory,” Aimee said. “They (southside) don’t have anything and the park way is just terrible.”

Originally from Melbourne, Sheryl has been living in Canberra for more than 25 years.

She doesn’t drive and said there really needs to be a north-south spine and that need is not currently being met. 

“This city is so lovely,” she said. “But it’s paralysing itself.”

“People can’t move around, and it encapsulates populations where they are, particularly the disadvantaged.

“At the moment, you can’t live in Palmerston and work in Woden without a car.

“I worked at ANU for years and that’s what the students needed.”

Lucy didn’t want to be photographed but was keen to voice her support for light rail, “full stop”.

She said living on the northside makes it easier to be supportive of light rail because you can feel the benefits.

“My preference would be to connect over the bridge and then do the airport.”

Matthew Cameron lives on the southside and said they already had lots of infrastructure there so maybe the airport route was the best option.

“I don’t really know, but I think it’s pretty easy to get to the city cause I’m fine with buses and stuff.”

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