Federal Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s promise of a $200 million investment in the second stage of Canberra’s light rail is a clear point of difference with the Liberal Party in the battle for the hearts and minds of ACT voters.
Mr Shorten made the promise alongside ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Labor’s candidate for the seat of Canberra Alicia Payne, after catching the tram from Dickson into Civic, part of the first stage of the project.
The investment from Federal Labor will go towards Light Rail Stage II: Civic to Woden, a route originally estimated to cost between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion. The controversial project has sparked much debate, with the Canberra Liberals opposing the project.
The federal coalition government made an initial contribution of $67 million to stage one of the project but confirmed in the recent Budget that it would not be matching Labor’s $200 million commitment.
The Junction has sought further comment from the Liberal candidate for Canberra Mina Zaki about the party’s reasons for not supporting additional funding.
ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja did tell the ABC, federal parliament should not try to block stage two of the project which may run through sensitive areas of the Parliamentary Triangle.
However Senator Seselja also expressed frustration that large amounts of funding were going to light rail while ACT rates were on the rise.
Unsurprisingly, the ALP candidate for Canberra Alicia Payne has jumped on board Bill Shorten’s pledge, welcoming the project as a “visionary investment in the future of Canberra”.
“It’s really about looking to the future as we grow, and addressing that before it becomes a problem”, she said.
Ms Payne highlighted additional benefits that light rail will have, including “getting cars off the road, which is good for both the environment and for the economy, as congestion does have a cost in terms of lost productivity”.
Ms Payne said that by 2041, it is estimated Canberra will have about 210-thousand people living, working, or studying within one kilometre of the Woden-to-Civic route corridor.
“This is about ensuring that they can get where they need to go quickly as part of an integrated public transport system, and that Canberra can continue to enjoy the lifestyle of a ‘15 to 20-minute city’ rather than a city where commuting takes such a big chunk of our time.”
The light rail service is still a subject of controversy among Canberrans. Stage one construction has led to significant redevelopment along the city’s main thoroughfare, but its delayed completion prolonged the city centre’s return to normality.
Questions about whether its $700 million price tag will be recouped are also still ongoing.
However, Ms Payne is undeterred, and believes initiatives such as the rail are vital for the future of the city.
The first stage of the light rail was recently launched with an estimated 25-thousand people taking advantage of the free ride on the first day of operation.
The initial fanfare was marred by the service’s first breakdown three days later, inconveniencing passengers who were stuck on a carriage until the computer malfunction was fixed.