Saturday, February 21, 2015

$460 million down payment on $800 million dollar Capital Metro light rail project

The ACT Government has managed to achieve what no other state or territory government has been able to do – prise federal money out of the Abbott government to spend on public transport infrastructure. It is a highly unusual move. The current federal Liberal government have gone out of their way to state repeatedly that they will not spend any money on state public transport, yet are happy to spend it on roads.

That changed today.

The agreement signed today between Chief Minister Barr and Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, answers once and for all the question of how this infrastructure program will be paid for.

The $460 million that will accrue as a combination of $400 million dollars in ACT Government asset sales, and $60 million from the federal governments asset recycling bonus, will all be allocated towards Capital Metro. The scheme that the ACT Government has taken advantage of will see the federal Government pay 15% of the total asset sale as a bonus for doing so.

Interestingly, the provisions of the federal government scheme mean that the federal contribution can only be spent on projects that will deliver an economic benefit – such as light rail. The federal money cannot be spent on social projects such as schools or hospitals. Nor can it be spent on extensions to existing projects, such as upgrading

It is a unique program, and much credit must be given to the ACT Government for negotiating their way to raising $460 million dollars to pay for an $800 million dollar project – especially when the first payment for Capital Metro will not be made until 2020 (payment can only be made once service has commenced).

Now the funding issue has been resolved, what are the local political implications? The federal liberal government decision politically isolates the Canberra Liberals.

Not one of the business groups that may traditionally have supported the Canberra Liberals opposes the light rail project. While they want a convention Centre, they also want light rail. They all appreciate the city building potential that Capital metro delivers as a once in a generation opportunity.

The Canberra Liberals are wedging themselves with their increasingly belligerent anti light rail rhetoric. While pandering to a vocal minority makes for spirited media releases, it does not provide an alternative public transport policy. Whether they like it or not, at
the next Assembly election the Canberra Liberals must have a light rail policy.

The Barr government is playing the long game. Each announcement on Capital Metro makes excuses to oppose the project disappear. The Russell extension addresses the question on who will use it aside from Gungahlin residents (those who now have to pay for parking in Russell, have an alternative), and the $460 million dollar down payment
addresses the ‘How will it be paid for?’ question.

Today’s announcement is further indication that the Barr Government has a clear vision for Canberra’s future that is forward looking, and not modeled on looking in the rear view mirror of a car.

Future projects planned for Canberra: City to the Lake, a new Convention Centre and a new all-weather stadium - can all proceed when the basic transport infrastructure to support the large volumes of people and visitors they will attract, are in place. A tendril of the light rail is planned for the Parliamentary Triangle, and at some point it will reach across the lake.

Today’s announcement on funding and the federal contribution is a significant moment in Canberra politics. Capital Metro was always a bold and expensive project and it has taken enormous political courage to progress it to this stage.

Many people will feel more comfortable knowing that over half of the money required to build it will be raised with no impact on other services, and without borrowing. The remaining 400 million will be paid off over a 20-year period, and the children of today’s Canberrans will be handed back an asset by the consortium that builds it.

By that stage future extensions may reach Tuggeranong and Queanbeayan and the arguments that we are having today will be long forgotten.

The Canberra Times have this article on todays newspaper on this issue.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Can Light Rail work for Canberra?

Proposed Capital Metro light rail

The recent decision taken by the ACT Government to proceed with the development of a light rail system for Canberra has sparked significant controversy within the community, prompting many locals to take to social media and news websites expressing negative view points and dire warnings of committing to this ‘white elephant’.

Notably, the ACT Opposition have made the declaration they will stop the project if they were to win the 2016 local election, evidently sensing enough opposition to leverage a victory based on the contentious issue. One then, is subsequently prompted to ask, is the light rail such a bad idea? Is the project destined to become the ‘white elephant’ some people are convinced it will?

There are numerous examples of light rail projects around the world from which the answers to these questions can be ascertained. Most notably, many examples are provided by projects in North American cities whose urban planning policies have been similarly reflected in Australia since shortly after World War 2, driven largely by the advent of high levels of car ownership, cheap fuel and a strong sense of individualism.

The large dormitory suburb, full of single family houses with the two car garage and large back yard, isolated from all other urban functions, but connected by networks of high speed roadways is a well known urban form on our two continents. The downsides to this type of urban form, i.e. urban sprawl, are manifold, not least of which is the ever-increasing congestion and daily commute for the majority of city dwellers contributing to significant impacts in economic productivity, quality of life and environmental problems.

As a result there has been a recent explosion of interest within North American cities for light rail and redevelopment projects aimed specifically at combating urban sprawl.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Government announcement on light rail Russell extension imminent?

WIN TV Canberra carried an item on their TV news on February 5 2015 with a scoop - that the ACT Government was to announce the extension of the Capital Metro route to Russell. WIN TV journalist David Sharaz reports that the announcement is expected in the coming week.

While there has been no further reporting in the media, it is a route that has long been discussed. Capital Metro has modelled a route extension from Civic, along Constitution Avenue, terminating near the statue in the centre of Russell.

If we hear of anything substantiating WIN TV's scoop - we will report it here and on our Facebook page.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

The gum trees along Northbourne Avenue and the coming of light rail

Northbourne Avenue with Scribbly Gums and light rail

The vista along Northbourne Avenue is beloved by Canberrans, despite the fact that they only see it out of the side windows of their cars. It is one of the remaining Burley Griffin design elements that can legitimately be pointed to in the 21st Century.

What will happen to the eucalyptus tree along its median strip when light rail runs down the length of Northbourne Avenue? The ACT Government announced in January 2015 that they had identified a more suitable species to replace the existing gum trees, following the construction of Capital Metro. This is part of the consultation process that Capital Metro are engaging in to determine the design and form of the route.

Transit Graphics design Capital Metro popup light rail vehicle for travelling displays

Images from Transit Graphics

Local company Transit Graphics have designed and built a mobile light rail vehicle mockup for Capital Metro to use as it travels around Canberra consulting with the community on light rail.
Images from Capital Metro

Naturally the media were fascinated by this - read the Canberra Times report here. 

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Timeline for the Capital Metro light rail project

Capital Metro have some new webpages up with interactive information on the consultation and design phase of the project. The new web pages are here.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

ACT Government Light Rail Master Plan update for Dec 2014

The ACT Government have been working away on a territory wide light rail master plan. In December 2014, ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman released this 'update'.

What is the Light Rail Master Plan aiming to do? From the December update: