Bridgewater Bridge. Picture: ROGER LOVELL
media_cameraBridgewater Bridge. Picture: ROGER LOVELL

Talking Point: Bridgewater Bridge saga a political football for too long

The planned replacement of the Bridgewater Bridge has a convoluted background.

In 2005 the joint federal/Tasmanian government rail rescue package provided $118 million over 10 years. It did so at the expense of the Bridgewater Bridge replacement. Funds were diverted from this to the Brighton intermodal facility planned by the Lennon government. From this point the Bridgewater Bridge became a political football between Canberra and Tasmania.

In 2005, Federal Minister Warren Truss said the switching of funding by the Tasmanian Government from the Bridgewater Bridge would not jeopardise road funding in northern Tasmania. In 2007, Senator Eric Abetz stood by federal government funding of $100 million of the $120 million estimated cost of building the bridge. The issue of the Midland Highway bypasses and a new Bridgewater Bridge were taken up. Pressure was put on the Tasmanian Government by the Southern Midlands and Clarence councils.

In 2006 Jim Lloyd, federal minister for roads, complained the State Government had taken too long in solving problems with the Bridgewater Bridge, which had suffered a failure with its lifting span causing closure for several weeks. He regarded it unacceptable that the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources had spent five years looking at alternatives for the bridge and that the Federal Government would make $20 million available, with further funding for a replacement.

Following the closure of the bridge to boating traffic, then infrastructure minister Jim Cox said $2 million to fix the lifting mechanism was beyond the resources of the Tasmanian Government.

Senator Abetz said this closure showed the State Government should have advocated a new Bridgewater Bridge. He said a Tasmanian Government report suggesting the bridge had another 25 years of life was wrong. It could have been two years down the path of building this bridge if the State Government and the Brighton and Derwent Valley mayors hadn’t backed off.

In 2007 the Tasmanian Government released its long-awaited plan for Hobart’s northern approaches. This five-year plan provided the construction of a four-lane 9.5km separate highway costing $164 million and bypassing Brighton with a second stage of 12km of the Mangalore-Bagdad bypass.

Included was the construction of a $70 million Brighton Transport Hub to replace the road-rail transfer centre at Hobart railyards. The Bridgewater Bridge was to get $12 million to repair it, to make it last until the second stage $200 million funding for a replacement bridge to be built by 2017.

The bypasses and the Brighton Multimodal Hub were completed in 2015. This left traffic from the Midland Highway travelling at 110km/h on the bypasses channelling at 60km/h through the two-lane, unreplaced, Bridgewater Bridge.

The Hodgman State Government engaged consultants Johnstone McGee and Gandy (JMG) to do an expert review and provide advice on a more cost feasible bridge crossing solution. This was compared to the 2012 state Labor government proposal of $823 million for construction starting in 2019.

The JMG report published in 2016 as “Review of Bridgewater Bridge design and cost estimate” had stipulated requirements which included a four-lane bridge with a minimum design speed of 100km/h, provision for pedestrian and cyclists but no allowance for rail or the cost of decommissioning the existing Bridgewater Bridge. The JMG report selected the preferred option as a height restriction of 16.2m, matching that of the Bowen Bridge at a cost of $533 million. The JMG report proposed a 35m concrete bridge.

The mayors and general managers of Glenorchy, Derwent Valley and Brighton voiced concerns to Infrastructure Tasmania that there was a lack of provision for passenger rail on the new bridge.

The councils were of the view that the existing bridge should be retained on a care and maintenance basis as strategic position if a future business case showed a positive benefit for a rail crossing across the Derwent. The JMG report proposed the bridge span be permanently raised to allow river traffic.

The problem with the last proposal is that the rail link to Brighton and beyond would be cut. This would stymie any passenger light rail development to Brighton as well as any revival of freight traffic out of Hobart. Recently the Derwent Valley Railway announced it would be able to run tourist rail traffic from New Norfolk to National Park by the end of 2018. State Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding has been active in encouraging the railway in its sterling work. The viability of this projected development would be enhanced if tourism rail ran from Hobart to link up with the Derwent Valley.

In May this year, Mr Hidding announced the State Government was seeking funding from the Federal Government for a four-lane Bridgewater Bridge to cost $535 million.

Subject to successful funding in the five-year round of the Federal Government’s Infrastructure Program and final design during 2017-2018, building the bridge would start in 2019-2020.

Hopefully the saga will finally end after nearly two decades of delay.

John Livermore is a transport consultant and author of Transport Law in Australia.