Light rail detail still lacking as Government releases consultation results
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Light rail detail still lacking as Government releases consultation results

Despite the release of the report on public consultation over Stage Two of the light rail, voters are no closer to knowing what it will cost, when it will be finished or even where the track will run than ever.

The only certainty is that despite 56 per cent of the respondents, or about 761 people, saying the line should run as far as the Canberra Hospital that probably won't be happening.

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Given the hospital complex, which employs thousands and is visited by even more on a daily basis, is one of the busiest locations on the south side with the possible exception of Woden Plaza, this seems counter intuitive.

All we have learned so far is that there are "technical constraints" that would make the trip from the town centre to the hospital difficult.

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What is interesting is that Transport Minister, Meegan Fitzharris, has confirmed the cost of Stage Two would be equivalent to the $939 million recently quoted for the completion of Stage 1.

Given this government's less than spectacular track record of bringing projects in on time and under budget, this suggests the final bill to the Territory's rate payers for light rail could be well above $2 billion dollars for the two sections.

That is a massive infrastructure spend for a jurisdiction whose estimated revenue for 2017-2018 is just under $5.5 billion from an ACT economy valued at $36.2 billion and sustained by just over 400,000 people.

The light rail commitment comes on top of a pledged $622 million infrastructure spend on urban renewal, health, education and the arts, more than $100 million on school upgrades, $30 million on the Gundaroo Drive duplication and $12 million for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health centre between now and June 2021.

Given a growing number of people are already starting to ask, some quite loudly, "where are they going to get the money for that?" Mr Barr and his team need to avoid over promising and under delivering if they possibly can.

While there do appear to be valid technical issues which would make running the line through Parkes and Barton and all the way to the hospital complex challenging, and potentially even more expensive, it could be argued that if Stage 2 is not going to meet public expectations it just isn't worth it.

Indeed, stage one of light rail has been heavily sold to the public as being a driver of major urban renewal along its route. We are yet to hear compelling arguments from the government over how stage two will deliver similar benefits or be an improvement over rapid bus services running from Civic to Woden.

When asking taxpayers to embrace a large, very expensive project, getting the public onside is crucial to its success. Asking them what they want and then telling them they can't have what the majority voted for is perhaps not the most effective way to garner such support.