Bridge repairs needed – not more shiny new cars
By Ben Bell
This appears to be the community message to the shire about the closure of the Duke Street pedestrian bridge, judging by graffiti on notices attached to barricades that block public access to the railway crossing.
The Public Transport Authority (PTA) closed the bridge for safety reasons last May and based on statements by the PTA and Shire of Toodyay, it appears unlikely to be re-opened anytime soon.
Both parties seem much more fixated on handballing responsibility for bridge repairs and upkeep to each other rather than finding a solution to re-open it soon.
The Duke Street bridge is a vital piece of Toodyay’s community infrastructure – I think we can all agree on that.
I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that the bridge plays a critical role in linking the two halves of the town which, as we know, is inconveniently bisected by a busy railway line that links Perth to the eastern states.
The bridge’s ongoing closure restricts access to local services for some people in our community, particularly those with reduced mobility.
Fortunately, the solution is very simple, and could result in the bridge re-opening very soon.
The PTA wants to give ownership of the bridge to the shire, so let’s accept it.
Sure, there is a bit of maintenance that the shire will need to do such as improving the decking which is uneven with nails protruding from it, and replacing some of the railings – but what is the alternative?
By not accepting bridge ownership, the shire will only force the PTA’s hand to demolish it – and then what?
Once the bridge is gone, I very much doubt the shire will find itself in a position to be able to build a new one from scratch.
This would mean that our community’s ability to move with relative ease between the town’s two halves will be gone forever.
A decision taken today will have enormous lifestyle implications for the Toodyay community long into the future – let’s not get this wrong.
Supposing as a shire we accept the bridge as it is – warts and all, so to speak.
How much will the shire have to pay to get this vital piece of local community infrastructure up to scratch?
An engineering mate of mine said it would probably be somewhere in the one hundred to two hundred thousand dollar range.
I should stress that this is only an educated guess but he pointed out that a new bridge could cost more like $750,000 to $1.5 million, which is what the shire will be up for if the PTA demolishes the existing bridge.
The obvious next question is where can the shire find the necessary money without resorting (again) to hiking our rates?
Well, the shire is spending a fair bit of your money this year on new cars – about $300,000 in fact.
And it plans to buy at least $200,000 worth of new cars every year for the next 10 years.
The community may feel that shire staff don’t need a shiny new car as desperately as the town needs the bridge re-opened.
As I said, I see the Shire of Toodyay has two options.
Firstly, we can continue down the current path of calling on WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti to ‘do the right thing’ and direct the PTA to repair the bridge.
But how long do you honestly think this will take – one year, perhaps two – or maybe not until the next State Election?
Call me a sceptic but Toodyay is in the safe WA National Party seat of Moore and I wouldn’t count on a State Labor Government making an election promise to spend taxpayers’ money on saving the bridge.
But people cannot wait years for this to be resolved – what do Toodyay residents with reduced mobility do in the meantime?
Surely we need to embrace the second option of having the bridge transferred immediately to the Shire of Toodyay and fund the required maintenance by not buying all nine new cars that the shire is slated to buy this year.
Talking about bridges, those of you who – like me – have a certain fondness for the historic Ringa Bridge near Coorinja Winery may be interested to learn that councillors decided 6-1 (with only me voting in support of the bridge) not to fund any repair, maintenance or upkeep of this iconic structure either this financial year or later.
I think it would be a shame to see the Ringa Bridge not get the attention it deserves and, as a result, we find that another part of Toodyay’s unique heritage ends up disappearing forever.