The ACT Government has announced that getting light rail from the City to Woden will now happen in two stages, with the first stage to take commuters from the City to Commonwealth Park.
Newly-appointed Transport Minister Chris Steel said this approach is “appropriate”, due to the different planning, heritage and environmental concerns in different parts of the corridor.
“We hope through this approvals process, we can get on with the first segment between the City and Commonwealth Park more quickly while we continue to work with the Commonwealth on the approval for remaining part of the route to Woden,” Minister Steel said said.
“We are aiming to ensure that complexities in the Commonwealth Park to Woden alignment can be worked through properly with the Commonwealth without holding up work on the extension of light rail between the City and Commonwealth Park.”
The Government has opted to lodge plans under the Commonwealth’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), with two referrals; one for each stage of the City to Woden project.
The first stage, dubbed ‘2A’, would link the city with the Australian National University and West Basin en route to Commonwealth Park.
‘2B’ will require a more complex planning and approvals process, with heritage considerations for the Parliamentary Triangle and questions about how to cross the lake to contend with. The Government’s Barton ‘dogleg’ part of the route was scrapped earlier this year in favour of a route via State Circle, a move Chief Minister Andrew Barr referred to as “the path of least resistance” to gaining Commonwealth approvals.
While the two-stage approach has had some support, e.g. the Public Transport Association of Canberra has welcomed the move, others have their reservations.
Appearing on Breakfast on ABC Radio Canberra last week, Shadow Transport Minister Candice Burch MLA said while the Canberra Liberals are open to the expansion of the network “in principle”, she was concerned about a lack of information regarding the second stage announcement.
“We still haven’t seen a business case for this stage two, we still haven’t seen any costings, we still haven’t seen any information on the engineering required; we just don’t have the information,” she said.
Ms Burch also raised concerns about the impact of the split on the cost of the project.
The ACT Government has said construction on the first stage to Commonwealth Park could begin as early as next year, with operations to commence in 2023.