The New Bridges Webinar – What Did We Learn?

The new traffic and railway bridges project – the so called Swan River Crossings project – was the subject of an interesting webinar last night at which representatives of the Alliance, the group contracted by Main Roads WA to design and construct the new bridges – presented on the topics of the design, landscaping, heritage, associated road systems, and construction schedule for the new bridges, as well as what happens with the old traffic bridge.

Early on in the webinar, members of the public who had registered for the event, including your editor, were taken through some of the bridges’ history before being reminded, in case we were in any doubt, that the old traffic bridge is too decrepit to save. The rusted metal and rotting timbers were put on display.

What became clear from this part of the presentation was that there will be no turning back from the decisions of the State and Federal Governments to remove the old traffic bridge and wholly replace it with a new traffic bridge.

As to whether even a remnant portion of the old traffic bridge might be saved and incorporated in the new one, essentially we were advised that that was considered but found to be too hard. The best you’d have would be a small pier going nowhere on the south side, possibly presenting safety issues, and there was a lack of clarity in any event over which tier of government would be responsible for its maintenance. The challenge of trying to connect such a remnant to the proposed pedestrian bridge pathway on the eastern side of the new bridge was apparently one challenge too many, one bridge too far you might say.

So, no High Line was the overall blunt message.

However, bits and pieces of the old timbers may be used for Heritage Interpretation after the event. So, you can expect a few relics from the old traffic bridge to pop up here and there at the Naval Store and around Freo in the form of imaginative sculptures, a little like how relics of old Italian saints seem to keep miraculously popping up in old Italian churches.

And don’t get too excited about a traffic bridge design to knock your socks off – its not going to happen. What you see in the design concept images would appear to be pretty much what you’ll get. The design idea seems to be informed by a desire for the new traffic bridge to be as concrete-simple as possible so as not to intrude into the existing topography or landscape. So, forget the idea of a design competition. It’s not the Sydney Opera House or the Harbour Bridge. Think The Causeway or the nearby Stirling Bridge.

Traffic routes and flows were the issues that got many questions in the Q&A.

The East Street/Canning Highway intersection got a lot of attention. The road plans means that driving west on Canning Highway beyond East Street will take you onto a two lane road only (down from 4 as at present) that has as its primary destination, central Freo via Beach Street. You can’t make an easy turn onto the new traffic bridge in order to reach North Fremantle, or say Port and Leighton Beaches. Stirling Bridge and Tydeman Road is the go.

Ditto returning from those beaches. You can’t drive over the new traffic bridge and turn left onto Canning Highway as you presently can, and then swing right into East Street. People in East Fremantle’s Plympton ward area are likely not to be so happy about these rearrangements. The Alliance spokesman frankly acknowledged there were judgements to be made and outcomes to be balanced, and this was the result. Better traffic flow into Freo was the victor in this balancing act.

The traffic presenter also expressed the view that the Canning Highway/Beach Street route into central Freo will not be carrying much more traffic than currently, and that the Gate 3 entry to the Port for trucks, near the existing railway bridge, is unlikely to present any real traffic flow consequences. A bit surprising, I thought.

So far as the Naval Store and the public open space in front of is concerned, this seems to be the biggest winner out of all this project planning from a community point of view. It will now be possible, it seems, under these plans, to more conveniently walk to or park a vehicle in the vicinity of the Naval Store and attend events there than at present. However, it was quickly acknowledged that there is actually limited, usable POS – public open space – in that area as most of the land to the north of the Naval Store slopes steeply down to the newly aligned Canning Highway. Getting to the Derbarl Yerrigan from the Naval Store will have its challenges. A good cross walk will be required at the very least. You’ll notice in this supplied image, all the pedestrians on the new Canning Highway near the river, are keeping to one side of the Highway or the other, and there’s not a convenient pedestrian crossing place in sight!

All in all, as I say, it was an interesting webinar.

The presenters were very professional. I take my hat off to them. I imagine they’d have felt a little like poor old Daniel being asked to enter the lions’ den!

The audience were also respectful. At least as far as I could tell from the written questions and comments that popped up on my computer screen during the Q&A. If there were any loud voices, I couldn’t hear them!

In summary, it was a public event to hear the Alliance explain what they are doing, not an occasion to let them know what we’d prefer them to do. That phase of public consultation is long gone. The political decisions have been taken. Implementation of the project is now about to ensue, as this screen shot shows. Construction is soon to start.

While the Alliance’s people are busy out and about Freo, meeting and greeting unsuspecting punters, their job is to explain to Freo locals who haven’t been engaged in the old traffic bridge saga over the past couple years, what’s happening or about to happen. It’s not really to ask them what they think.

The real message is, get ready for the construction phase. It’ll be huge.

* If you’d like to read more about the new Traffic Bridge saga over the past 2 years, look here.

* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News

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