The capital authority’s stupid bridge too far

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Commonwealth Avenue Bridge… a third bridge section was designed to be added between the two present sections. Photo: Paul Costigan

“The cost of following the stupid suggestion of replacing Commonwealth Avenue Bridge would be enormous. It’s complex and would require complicated demolition work and be a huge disruption for the city,” writes Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN

FIRST, the obvious: Canberra is cherished as the bush capital by residents and people nationally and internationally. Change is welcomed as the place fills with new people and adapts for the changing climate conditions. 

Paul Costigan.

The big problem: The flaw in any optimistic thinking is that the ACT’s Labor/Greens government and the National Capital Authority (NCA) have decided that having residents agree with important planning and development decisions is optional because the priorities are set by the development sector. Residents have little trust in the NCA or the ACT government.

Here’s a recent case of stupidity. The NCA released statements about the need to re-assess the future of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge given the expectation that stage two of the tram needs to cross the lake. 

The NCA stated that given that the bridge is ageing, requires maintenance and is not suitable to take the weight of the tram, that the NCA may need to consider its demolition and replacement. This is rubbish. It is a case of alternative facts being promoted as something real. There’s a lot of this from these agencies.

The reality check: At a July meeting of the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians, the original project engineer for the construction of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge presented very clear evidence of how wrong the NCA’s position is. 

The bridge will still be there well beyond 200 years and given that this bridge consists of two bridge sections (see image) with a space in between, a third bridge section could be added between the present sections. This was envisaged when the bridge was constructed but not acted on. This new section could be added now to take the tram as well as possibly an extra lane for bicycles.

The cost of following the stupid suggestion of removing and replacing Commonwealth Avenue Bridge would be enormous. It is a complex engineering thing and would require very complicated demolition work and be a huge disruption for the city.

As with so many instances of misleading information, for example the Civic pool, Section 72 Dickson, Kippax shops and West Basin, where our government agencies use the media to present false narratives as facts, the debate about Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, as started by the NCA, is seriously disingenuous. This Commonwealth agency could and should do better!

And so to the debate beyond the bridge: The issue of the tram going south is almost a certainty. If so, what is to be the fate of the significant cedar trees in the middle of the avenue leading up to parliament hill? 

These have a heritage value in that they were planted by the city’s first tree expert (horticulturist), Charles Weston. Here again it would be good for the city if we could rely on the agencies involved to think laterally and to take the residents with them on the decisions to be made about these trees. This will probably not happen.

Despite this, let’s place a little optimism out there. Is there a solution to having the tram run up this avenue and still have a significant landscape and greenery as a result? Yes.

Let’s start by asking what would Charles Weston do? Would he see the obvious that landscapes change and that the important issue is how could this new infrastructure deliver improvements that enhance this national landscape? 

Maybe the agencies should start the consultations on new landscape designs for the areas around Commonwealth Avenue (including around the Albert Hall) with the emphasis on more mature trees, same or similar to the cedars and elms, planted appropriately well before work starts on the tram. 

The landscapes around the tram need to be something spectacular – not like the stuff on Northbourne Avenue. There may be other innovative landscape design solutions. For this we need government agencies we can trust. As for the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, please be sensible and start work on designing that third span for the tram.

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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