David McLennan July 13, 2012
The ACT government has ''called in'' the $288 million Majura Parkway, effectively overruling any objections to the upgraded road and all but guaranteeing work will begin this year.
Development Minister Simon Corbell said it was a critical project for Canberra's arterial road network, and important for improving safety and freight movement between the Federal Highway and the Monaro Highway.
''For these reasons I have decided to call in the project and grant it development approval to ensure the proposal can proceed without delay and deliver these substantial public benefits to the broader community,'' he said.
The 11.5 kilometre dual carriageway between the Monaro Highway and the Federal Highway is slated to carry almost an extra 30,000 vehicles each day by 2031 compared with the current Majura Road. Most of the road, which should be complete in 2016, will have a 100km/h speed limit.
The government has already called for tenders to build the road, and the three-year construction job - co-funded by the Commonwealth - is scheduled to begin in October.
''This is about keeping it on track and removing any uncertainty. It allows the government to proceed to procurement of the contractor sooner and it allows the project to get under way as soon as possible,'' Mr Corbell said.
His decision cannot be appealed in court, but the department's could have been. There were 25 submissions to the development application, and Mr Corbell said that although some requested adjustments to the road, none had argued it should not go ahead. ''Wherever possible, those issues have been addressed, either outside of the development approval by Roads ACT, in terms of their stakeholder management, or where appropriate, they have been addressed as a condition of the approval,'' he said.
For example, he had increased the size of the culverts below the road to improve wildlife access and ensured appropriate safety standards would be in place for lighting when the road neared Canberra Airport. Concerns had also been raised about how horse and bike riders would be able to cross the road, and about the effect on some leaseholders' land.
However, the project is still waiting for approval from the National Capital Authority, because parts of it fall on land under its control.
A major part of the development will be a new bridge across the Molonglo River running almost parallel to the existing Sylvia Curley Bridge, with some Duntroon land taken by the development.
The government has resumed about 12 leases along the road to allow the new road to pass through the land. The road would be built in six stages to assist in traffic management.
Majura Valley Landcare Group spokesman Paul Keir, who lives on Majura Road, said that although farmers never really wanted a freeway going through their backyard, most residents recognised the road was going to be upgraded and were working with the government to make sure it was done properly.
''As a group, we know that it was definitely going ahead anyway and we know that Canberra needs this road,'' Mr Keir said. ''Sure, there would be a few things that we would like done differently, but you know what, it is an extremely busy road, the old Majura Road, and it is extremely dangerous. I personally think that it is a good thing and the sooner it happens the better.
''We are looking forward to having a picturesque bush capital entrance to Canberra, with people driving down an elevated road through our valley and looking at old farmland and the people who live here investing in their farms and making a very beautiful area and making a beautiful entrance to Canberra.''
He hoped the existing Majura Road would become a tourist route that people used to get to the vineyard, truffle farm and any other future attractions. He said the decision would also provide certainty. Some leases had not been renewed and people had been reluctant to invest in their properties until the route had been finalised.
Canberra Liberals transport spokesman Alistair Coe said the party supported the upgraded road and he hoped it would be delivered on time and on budget.
''This is a road which is long overdue and it is a shame that it has taken an election year before the Labor government will commit to infrastructure projects,'' he said.
But ACT Greens environment spokesman Shane Rattenbury criticised the government for calling in an ''inherently unsustainable planning project''.
''This is the sort of road planning that was done in the '60s and we need to be looking at better options,'' he said. ''Certainly we have been advocating an upgrade of the Majura Road to improve safety and to eliminate bottlenecks, but our view is that could have been done for less money, whilst making funds available for other projects, such as starting to contribute to light rail, which will also address the traffic congestion problems associated with the growth of Gungahlin.''
He believed the use of the call-in powers meant the government was evading proper planning and environmental scrutiny.
Roads ACT will begin cutting down 12 hectares of the pine plantation in the valley on Monday, July 23 to prepare for the project.