Comment

Editorial
Save
Print

ACT government open to accusations of formulating light rail policy on the run

The startling lack of detail in the ACT government's call for companies to finalise details for the Woden light rail link has provided fresh ammunition for critics, who have accused it of making up transport policy on the run.

While the Barr government went to the October election fully committed to stage two of light rail, which is going to cost $25 million just to prepare, it is now obvious there has been no cost benefit analysis or even in-depth examination of the merits of the Woden line.

Questions that still have to be answered include where will the Woden station will be located; whether or not the line will follow State Circle or National Circle; and whether or not the line will be extended to the public and private hospital precincts.

There are also issues about pedestrian access and commercial development along Adelaide Avenue and the apparent abandonment of the ACT's long-standing policy of not encouraging ribbon development along transport corridors.

While it is reassuring to learn the government is committed to using the Commonwealth Avenue bridge to span the lake, this is very much a statement of the obvious. What were the alternatives? King's Avenue bridge is out of the question and a tunnel under the lake would cost far more than the territory could afford.

Nuts and bolts issues that may yet prove very costly to address include the possible need to reinforce the Commonwealth Avenue bridge to carry trams it was never designed for, and the National Capital Authority's opposition to the use of overhead lines in the Parliamentary Triangle.

Advertisement

It is not hard to conclude that in setting Woden as the destination in September, regardless of cost, value or public benefit, the government was more concerned with winning support in the south ahead of the October poll than anything else.

Until Andrew Barr's announcement that stage two would run through the Parliamentary Triangle to Woden, light rail was being attacked as something that would only benefit the north, even though the whole city was paying for it.

Given the final cost of the tram to Canberra is expected to reach, or even exceed, $1 billion, it is fair to ask whether this degree of politicking with a major infrastructure project is appropriate or desirable.

While light rail, as a concept, can be defended as a strategic attempt to pre-emptively solve some of the traffic congestion and other problems arising from Canberra's rapidly growing population, it won't work unless considerable intellectual rigour is applied to its development.

That, to date, appears to have been lacking.

The challenge facing the government, and the commercial partners it hopes to involve in stage two of the project, is to address these issues in such a way a cost-effective, user friendly and practical piece of infrastructure comes into being.

We'll just have to wait and see.