By TONY FOSTER*
THE most recent reconfirmation of funding for a new Bridgewater Bridge, announced again by the Prime Minister as part of the much-vaunted Hobart City Deal, should signal and early start to this major infrastructure project.
The replacement of the current 75-year-old bridge has been promised for years and funding now comprises a key component of the city deal, with $461 million promised by the Commonwealth Government and a further $115 million from the State.
So, let the construction begin.
The Commonwealth’s funding was actually announced in the May budget last year and this meant that planning then underway by the State Government could be completed and construction commenced as soon as possible.
It is not unreasonable for the community to now expect to see a firm timeline showing when the planning and design work will be completed, when tenders will be called and when construction works will actually commence.
Brighton Council has called for the replacement Bridgewater Bridge for the past decade or more and lobbied both Governments to fund the project. This has now paid off and there seems no reason why an early start on works cannot be made.
The Bridgewater Bridge is a vital link in the north-south transport network, and the new bridge should meet Tasmania’s requirements for years to come. Importantly, provision for light rail can be maintained via the existing bridge, or the new structure and this retains an important public transport option for the future.
The existing Bridge was built in the 1940s and is in need of urgent replacement because of the restrictions it places on vehicles travelling on the Midland Highway, our most important road freight corridor. Consider the almost 20,000 vehicles that cross each day, traffic bottle-necks and other issues, and it means the bridge is seriously out of date.
While the repeated confirmations may seem good politics, it is high time that construction of the new bridge got underway. With the efficiency, convenience, investment and employment it will bring, a firm start date will be heartily welcomed by commuters, business, industry and indeed by all Tasmanians.
The new crossing will be the latest version of a cross-river link that dates back to the earliest days of Tasmania’s European settlement. As early as 1816, flat-bottomed boats were ferrying passengers, livestock and goods across the river. Work on a causeway crossing commenced in 1830, with convict labour employed to quarry and transport the stone. Cables were used to hand-winch punts across a short river gap.
The first bridge was built in 1849, using timber sourced from nearby Mount Dromedary, with a 23-metre-long span supported on iron wheels and rails and operated by winches. Some 30 years later the bridge was still a key part of the only road link across the Derwent River.
The 1874 rail bridge made an important connection between Hobart and the north. The causeway was widened at the time and a steel swing span added.
The third road bridge constructed in 1893, extended straight out from the causeway and was designed to better accommodate rail. A new swing-span was manufactured in England and its abutments are still visible on the northern banks of the river.
The current bridge, designed by the State’s then chief engineer Allan Knight (later Sir Allan of Hydro fame), has been operating for more than 75 years. It is rightly nationally recognised as part of Tasmania’s built heritage and has truly served our State well. But its time has come. We now await its replacement and the sooner the better.
The State Government presented initial designs of a new bridge in early 2017 and presumably these have now been advanced.
The new Bridgewater Bridge must cater for Tasmania’s needs well into the future. At a minimum it must have four lanes – two in each direction and it must have a pathway for pedestrian traffic, a separate and separated bicycle path as well as provision for a light rail track.
It should allow for ferries, yachts and other river traffic to pass through and navigate up to New Norfolk. Rather left in place and blocking the river, the current lift-span could be dismantled and reassembled nearby should people want to appreciate its heritage values.
Now the funding announcements have been made, repeated and confirmed again, the designs must be finalised as soon as possible and a firm schedule for construction announced.
Like all Tasmanians, I look forward to the day, hopefully in the not too distant future, when the bridge builders will move in and start construction of this vital piece of Tasmania’s road transport infrastructure.
*Tony Foster is Tasmania’s longest-serving mayor. He was first elected Mayor of Brighton in 1993 and has served continuously since then.