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It might seem like talk of light rail in the nation's capital has been going on forever — but in a matter of hours the ACT's largest ever infrastructure project will go live. It's the result of several years of false starts, changed routes, and squabbling over how to pay for it.
While the first trams — or light rail vehicles, if you're feeling fancy — will be rolling down Northbourne Avenue from tomorrow, talk of a light rail system in Canberra can be traced back to the city's founding.
The capital was constructed with light rail in mind — it featured in Walter Burley Griffin's plans for the city, which reserved corridors on streets like Northbourne Avenue for trams.
But, like anything with a big price tag, the project came with plenty of controversy and debate over where it should run, what it should look like and how much should be paid for it.
It's the largest infrastructure project in Canberra's history and thousands are expected to be taking advantage of free rides across the weekend.
But many of those lucky souls will be blissfully unaware of the argy-bargy that came before.
Why not cross the lake twice?The new line runs from Civic to Gungahlin and that route was sort-of always on the cards, but there were some other ideas thrown around.
In 2003, the ACT Government seriously considered dumping Gungahlin (for the time being), and constructing a network centred on inner-city Canberra.
It would have crossed the lake twice and linked Civic with the ANU, Parliament House, Kingston and Russell.
Then-planning minister Simon Corbell saw it as a great option to activate struggling parts of the inner-city.
"Great development opportunity in places like Civic West, which has been underdeveloped to date," he said at the time.
"We can make it a much more lively residential and commercial precinct if we have light rail in place."
Vicki Dunne from the then-(and still)-opposition, was far from convinced by the proposal.
"I think that it's a system that's almost bound to fail," she said.
It never really progressed, and a few years later the Government was going cap-in-hand to the Federal Government looking for funds to make the Gungahlin line a reality.
Can you spare some change, Federal Government?
Former chief minister Jon Stanhope had long held a view that light rail simply would not be feasible without federal funding.
That funding was applied for in 2008, around the time the former Rudd Federal Government was offering money through the Building Australia Fund.
It was listed alongside such projects as a Very Fast Train (VFT) linking Canberra with other capitals, a major solar power station, and the Majura Parkway.
Somewhat remarkably, all but one of those things are now a reality. There's no prizes for guessing which one isn't (RIP, VFT).
But, while the Federal Government did contribute some funds towards stage one of light rail, it was largely left to the ACT to foot the bill — and that didn't go down well with everyone.
By the time then-chief minister Katy Gallagher promised the project before the 2012 election, the price tag being thrown around was $600m.
A post-election deal with the Greens, who had long pushed for the project, all-but cemented the project's future.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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