Earlier this year Simon Corbell stood in the middle of Northbourne Avenue and keeping a straight face, announced that his government estimated it would cost 870 million dollars to build light rail from Gungahlin to Civic, along Northbourne Avenue. Further, it would only cost 300 million dollars to build bus rapid transit along the same corridor.
Today the ESDD Minister has announced that those costs have been revised. He has managed to shave $170 million off the light rail costing.
Naturally, there is no press release, but the Canberra Times article 'Govt lops $220 million from rail, bus costings' is here.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is unknown. The real truth is that we still don't know what these figures actually mean. Both the ACT Greens and the Canberra Liberals submitted FOI application for the data used to arrive at these to look at the actual numbers Minister Corbell uses in press releases, but were denied access to the true figures. What has this government got to hide ?
ACT Light Rail have studied the publicly released material closely and are of the firm belief that the majority of the capital cost of this project is meant to completely rebuild Northbourne Avenue. The proposals include bus or light rail lanes on the outside of Northbourne, complete revamps of the internal median strip and the edges of each road.
There was also a proposal to put the bus or light rail lanes along one side of Northbourne, and directing traffic down the other (this was not included on teh publicly released material).
Northbourne Avenue is Canberra's most used road, and is severely degraded in several areas. The road surface is very poor, and many of the trees on the inner median strip are distressed and at the end of their life. There is a lot of cost ahead whether this current bus/light rail exercise gets funding, or is quietly abandoned post-election.
By folding bus lanes/light rail into the design exercise, the ACT Government cunningly makes this a Federal funding decision, instead of the road surface upgrade - which would see the ACT Government dipping into its own pocket.
This is obliquely referred to in the article:
''We'll be releasing a detailed assessment of the costings and the assumptions behind them. It won't just be the figures, we will be breaking them up,'' Mr Corbell said.
The government has applied to Infrastructure Australia for funding to undertake detailed design work on the corridor, with the ACT committing to $15 million as long as the Commonwealth matched the figure.
ACT Light Rail keenly await these figures, and trust that the long term benefit of the territory is considered ahead of a short term cost saving. ACTION Buses are at capacity from Gungahlin to Civic in peak hour. The roads are congested, and still more residents are pouring into Gungahlin.
The development comes as the ACT Greens candidate for Molonglo and former high-profile president of the Gungahlin Community Council, Alan Kerlin, said the ACT needed a ''transport minister with vision'' and called on the government to commit to building light rail.
''They've got to stop pussy-footing around and making empty promises every four years right before an election,'' Mr Kerlin said.
The timing of this whole exercise is very suspect, but I believe the ACT electorate are now aware of the games that politicians play with promises of light rail prior to elections. The whole Infrastructure Australia light rail bid charade was a perfect example of this governments 'commitment'.
Build Light Rail Now.