AS the days draw nearer to the 2020 ACT election, the Canberra Liberals will inevitably need to decide their light rail policy, an issue which has dominated local politics for the last two election cycles. Indeed, there has been no shortage of media on the difficulties the government is facing with their proposed route from Civic to Woden via Barton, a path that requires new or converted light-rail vehicles and a possible cost blow out due to the National Capital Authority’s requirements on how it’s to cross the lake.
While I support the government’s vision of urban revitalisation and understand what light rail will do for the territory’s economy and certainly for Woden’s town centre, this route doesn’t make sense to me, not yet at least.
So what is a viable alternative? Belconnen to the airport. This route provides Canberra with a firm east-to-west link, something that earlier this month Infrastructure Australia said is critically required.
Economically and logically, each day this route would serve a greater number of Canberrans, including five current and one future higher education facilities, two schools, the now-shelved new stadium and convention centre, GIO Stadium/AIS, Calvary hospital, Russell offices, and the Belconnen town centre. Population density is also significantly higher along this route, reducing stage two’s chance of failure.
For students coming to Canberra, navigating our sparse city can often be a challenge, especially when bus routes often weave in and out of unfamiliar suburbs. By linking our major tertiary and vocational facilities, as well as student accommodation hubs across the capital, we not only make the lives of students more comfortable but we also make Canberra a more viable and inviting place to study.
To me, light rail serves three purposes; one, to build infrastructure for the future and to create jobs; two, to get cars off the road, and three, to allow for urban renewal.
Now, no one discounts the effect of significant infrastructure works on the economy, nor does anyone discount the benefit of thousands of new jobs. However, I believe it is imperative that the government prioritises local construction companies and workers where possible. This prioritisation allows the highest return on investment for Canberra, after all, it is better for money that is earnt here to be spent here.
By using this route, it allows the government to help renew one of the most troubled urban areas in Canberra – City Walk and Garema Place. Revitalisation can occur by running the light rail straight through the middle of City Walk, to create a well-designed mall, similar to that of Bourke Street in Melbourne.
While it is unlikely that anyone will ride all the way from Belconnen to the airport, commuters will utilise this route as a hop-on, hop-off service; for example between city east and city west. Seemingly, that usage is precisely how this route will service the greatest number of Canberrans.
This route is the simplest to build and the most economical and viable light rail route for Canberra. While it is unlikely the government will backflip on Woden as its stage-two, light-rail destination it isn’t impossible.
Hopefully, the government will have the foresight to look beyond politics and do what is most effective, most efficient, and best for our small, but great and growing city.
John-Paul Romano (@johnpauldromano) is founder of The PURE Network.