Transcript - Media conference - Molonglo River Bridge construction award announcement

CHRIS STEEL (ACT Minister for Transport and City Services): Welcome, Minister King to the fastest growing region in the fastest growing jurisdiction in the country, and welcome too to Marisa Paterson, our local MLA from Murrumbidgee here as well. This is a very significant milestone for the John Gorton Drive Bridge project, and it's an important day for the Molonglo community.

We know how important this bridge is to the Molonglo community, in providing a reliable connection across the Molonglo River, but also to provide the future connections to the new suburb of Molonglo, which will be the region's commercial centre.

We've gone through the procurement process, and I'm delighted to say that the project is on track with the construction award for the projects being awarded to BMD Constructions. This is a major Tier 1 civil contractor that will start the detailed design on the bridge and then get underway with construction, with the completion expected around the end of 2025.

This will be one of the largest bridges in the ACT, spanning 227 metres across the Molonglo River, but importantly it will also see 1.7 kilometres of approach roads being constructed to provide access points into the Molonglo Commercial Centre as well. So I'll hand over to Minister King to say a few words and we'll take questions.

CATHERINE KING: Thanks very much, Chris, and again this is a great example of the partnership between the Commonwealth, the Albanese Labor Government and the ACT Labor Party here building infrastructure for the future. I haven't been into this part of the ACT for a little while, but I can't believe how quickly the suburbs are going up, the suburb of Whitlam, the suburb of Molonglo, and obviously the importance of this project today. Over 223 metre width span, but also 23 metres high. This is a huge project, over $170 million going into this project on a 50/50 basis, but it's really about what infrastructure does and what this bridge will do to the communities, connecting them to work, connecting them to family, future proofing and building resilience into our infrastructure to make sure that what happens when floods are here, we know when the river's running, the danger of actually not being able to actually get through to these suburbs is really heightened, so this is really future proofing, I think to build a bridge of this scale, of this size, I think it will be probably one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the ACT. It's magnificent, and I congratulate BMD for winning the successful tender for the design and construct. Design and construct projects are actually really good. We've seen just how making sure that in a detailed design phase we iron out all of the problems, this is going to be a complex site to build on, I can see that from here, it's a magnificent site, but it is going to be a complex build, so having BMD actually give all actively right the way through into that detailed design phase means that when you get into the construction phase a lot of those problems are already ironed out.

This will be a game changer for the suburbs here. I think we're expecting around 50,000 households to be built through this area, so a great growing area of the ACT, and very pleased to be here today with the major milestone of the contract being awarded for design and construct. We'll see that design phase happen through the rest of this year and construction starting in 2024 with the opening of the bridge expected in late 2025, so for people to go through. There might be a bit of disruption along the way, but it's going to be worth it in the end to actually have this magnificent piece of infrastructure here in Canberra servicing the community.

JOURNALIST: Minister, is Coppins, the existing Coppins Crossing expected to have to close at any point here in the next few years for construction? 

CHRIS STEEL: We understand the frustration of the Molonglo community when Coppins Crossing has to close due to any rainfall or flooding events that we've seen in recent years. We'll be working closely with the contractor to make sure that Coppins Crossing remains open as much as possible during the construction.

The contractor will be using Coppins Crossing considerably with trucks and other heavy vehicles undertaking the construction work, so we'll be working closely with them to make sure that it's open for that work to occur, and also to the general public. We know that this bridge is critical to making sure that we've got reliable connections through to the northern suburbs of the Molonglo and to civic and the north of Canberra, and what this will do is finally enable us to make improvements to a rapid bus network extending it beyond the bridge, the Rapid 10 to the northern part of Canberra, which is going to make a real difference in terms of public transport, but also to private motor vehicle users as well.

JOURNALIST: So that bridge won’t go until the end of the process? 


JOURNALIST: That bridge won't go until the new one’s up? 

CHRIS STEEL: So Coppins Crossing will still remain even when the new bridge is built providing a redundancy connection down to the river in the future, but we'll certainly keep Coppins Crossing open as much as possible during the construction as well.

JOURNALIST: Given how sensitive Coppins Crossing is to closing during flooding events and the like, what contingency has been put into the end of 2025 opening date?  What buffers do you have? 

CHRIS STEEL: So discussions have been had through the procurement process with contractors around what we can do during the construction phase to make sure that we keep the Coppins Crossing open so that construction can occur in a timely way. We can get the bridge delivered, but also so that users, private users, Molonglo residents can use Coppins Crossing as well during the construction period. So we'll be working closer with the contractor, and what we need to do is keep it open as much as possible. However, in major flooding events the gates close automatically and it does have to be closed when it's flooding for safety reasons.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you a bit more about the timeline?  I know you've said end of 2025. The ACT Infrastructure Plan from 2019 referenced 2024 as the completion date with construction beginning in 2020 to 21. How do you account for that delay and what level of confidence do you have that it won't be ‑‑

CHRIS STEEL: If you look at the plan, and go to the back of the plan where we set out the different timelines for the project, you actually see that the reference is up to 2025, so this project is on track, and it is expected to be delivered by the end of 2025, and that's been written into the contract with the successful tenderers, being BMD Constructions, and I'm sure that the Molonglo community and the rest of the community and the Government will be heavily scrutinising the progress of this project, and we really hope that we get some good weather so we can get on with the work constructing this bridge and the lead‑in roads. We've been working closely with the Suburban Land Agency as well, and that will continue through the detailed design process on the work that they're doing as part of the new suburb in Molonglo, the commercial centre of this region, to make sure that it links in well with the proposed design, and they will also start work, we expect, in their suburb development, their estate, so that will be occurring at the same time, and we will inter-coordinate as much as possible.

JOURNALIST: Given that end date has been written into the contract, if it does end up that it goes over, will the construction company bear the costs or will the ACT Government be the one to fork out? 

CHRIS STEEL: We anticipate this will be constructed by the end of 2025, and we're looking forward to working with the contractor. You know, there are a range of different pressures on the infrastructure industry at the moment, but we're really delighted that we've got an experienced partner in BMD Constructions, a Tier 1 contractor that has undertaken hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects right around the country including road projects, so we'll be working closely with them to get this built as soon as possible. We know that the Molonglo community has been anticipating this bridge infrastructure project for some time, and I'm delighted that it is on track with this milestone, with the contract being awarded, and we're looking forward to working with the partner to get it delivered in the timeframes that are in the contract ‑‑

JOURNALIST: Why did it take a couple more years to get started than what you may have wanted? 

CHRIS STEEL: Well, major infrastructure projects of this scale are complex, and we need to go through a number of planning processes; we've got now planning approvals for this project secured, we've undertaken some early design, and now we move into not only the contract award but the detailed design and construction, which is what the community wants to see.

JOURNALIST: A question for Minister King. What else can you do in the next little while to alleviate the growing pain that this part of Canberra is experiencing, I know this is designed to resolve those, but in the interim? 

CHRIS STEEL: Well, the importance of this bridge project and the lead‑in roads really can't be understated for the Molonglo community. It's just one project of course that we've undertaken to [indistinct] community as it grows, we've duplicated the [indistinct] road already, an important connection on the south of the Molonglo, we're also undertaking further planning in relation to a new east‑west arterial road that would connect the new Molonglo Commercial Centre through the Tuggeranong Parkway, the duplication of William Hovell Drive is also being undertaken jointly funded with the Australian Government, and we're looking at a future connection as well that's being planned from John Gorton Drive connected to Bindubi Street and William Hovell drive, so these are major works that are being undertaken, but this is probably the most significant one and the one that the Molonglo community is looking forward to the most.

JOURNALIST: Minister King, we've just heard from Minister Steel that this project remains on track but has just been pushed out to its sort of the end of its expected timeline. Is there more the Commonwealth can be doing to ensure infrastructure projects of this type remain on track?  It's a familiar story we’re hearing, that things are being pushed out.

CATHERINE KING: Sure. Well, I think the first thing is that the construction industry were absolutely magnificent through COVID, and they frankly kept the economy going, particularly in my home state of Victoria, through New South Wales and the rest of the country, but we also know there are significant capacity constraints, it's why the Australian Government has been so determined that we don't add to inflation pressures through our infrastructure investments, that we try and take the heat out of the market a bit in relation to that, and make sure that our infrastructure investments are actually deliverable. But what it's also meant is we’ve got massive labour shortages with the significance under investment‑ in skills and training in this country over the last decade. So the 180 fee free TAFE places particularly targeting where we've got skill shortages, increasing the migrant intake for this coming year, this year, to enable to try and take some of the pressure out of it, but we know there are significant constraints in construction. But they are doing a great job, and working with State Governments and Territory Governments really closely in partnership, means that we can deliver these projects.

I think what we saw under the previous Government was we had a lot of noise about announcements, a lot of fanfare about announcements, and when I've looked at the 800 projects that the Commonwealth's investing in with State and Territory and with Local Governments, there's a substantial number that are going to take a long time to deliver, because they've either been poorly planned, not costed properly, not enough money for them, or simply State Governments have just not got the capacity to actually build them. So my job's been to really try and make sure that we are working absolutely in step with State and Territory Governments to actually deliver these projects, and I think the construction industry has certainly seen that that pipeline is actually much more deliverable, there's much more certainty in that pipeline, and that's what the Federal Government can do.

Thanks everybody.