Grafton Bridge

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SpeakersTurner Mr John
BusinessMatter of Public Importance

Page: 5516

    Matter of Public Importance

    Mr J. H. TURNER (Myall Lakes-Deputy Leader of the National Party) [12.45 p.m.]: The Opposition raises as a matter of public importance the need for a new bridge in Grafton. In May this year I attended a public meeting near Grafton-a meeting that was attended by approximately 650 people-and, with the exception of one brave soul, the unanimous decision was that they wanted a new crossing over Clarence River. The present bridge, which was opened in 1932, was constructed as a rail bridge. The roadway on the upper level was an afterthought to cater for the increasing number of motor vehicles being purchased at that time. Those honourable members familiar with the bridge would be aware that it has two doglegs, or bends, which are a cause for concern as they pose traffic safety problems for large vehicles that are using that bridge.

    Grafton bridge, an integral part of Main Road 83, links south Grafton with Casino, via Casino and Kyogle. That bridge is second only to Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is the longest water crossing in New South Wales. Official figures from the Roads and Traffic Authority show that in 1998 approximately 24,000 vehicles used the bridge every day. About 95 per cent of all traffic that uses the bridge is local traffic. A significant number of heavy vehicles also use that bridge. I referred earlier to the doglegs, or bends, in the bridge, which result in traffic having to stop to enable trucks to cross over. Much goodwill is shown by all those involved in that activity but these problems have to be addressed for safety reasons.

    As the Roads and Traffic Authority and the State Rail Authority-two government departments-will be involved in the construction of a new bridge, the Government must have both departments on side. As I said earlier, this rail bridge has been adapted to a road bridge. We must ensure that sufficient funding is allocated for the proper construction of a new bridge. The Government allocated an amount of $100,000 in the last budget to enable the completion of a feasibility study. However, that funding will be sufficient only to enable the completion of the strategic phase, a feasibility analysis, economic appraisal and network objectives. A decision will then have to be made about whether the project should proceed.

    The Roads and Traffic Authority has suggested that two other significant phases have to be considered-the developmental phase and the implementation phase. As we do not want this project to stall in its strategic phase, we believe that the Government should allocate adequate funding. If more than $100,000 is required-that is the amount that the Government has allocated-it should be prepared to meet any additional costs. A new bridge in Grafton is essential as the Armidale to Grafton road is being upgraded. There will be a direct link from the New England Highway through to the coastal areas. As the Woolworths distribution outlet is operating at Warwick a link from Woodenbong down to Grafton would be an appropriate route for distribution trucks to travel to those coastal areas. At present B-doubles are not allowed on Grafton bridge; they simply would not be able to get across. We must accept and understand that future transport will have to incorporate the concept of B-doubles for the economic transport of freight.

    As I said, the community strongly supports the establishment of a new bridge. No doubt there will be, as always occurs in these matters, extensive and vigorous debate about the strategic location of the bridge. However, I am sure people will display goodwill in relation to determining that location, in the interests of ensuring that the bridge will properly service local residents and the many people who use the bridge to travel from one area to another. Local councils have certainly displayed goodwill in relation to the bridge. Grafton City Council and the surrounding shires of Copmanhurst, Maclean and Pristine Waters have listed a new Grafton bridge as the number one priority in their respective plans of management. Richmond Valley and Kyogle councils and the Summerland Way Promotion Committee also consider a new Grafton bridge to be of the highest priority. The Grafton City Chamber of Commerce and Industry has listed a new Grafton bridge as a high priority in its strategic plan.

    The Grafton Police Customer Council supports the construction of a new Grafton bridge to assist with better local traffic flow. Clearly, within the community there is a need and a want for the establishment of the bridge to proceed. A community focus group was formed, and the group is made up of a number of people from the community. Regrettably, the group is top-heavy with Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] representation, but I suppose that is inevitable. The group continues to meet, and through the strategic phase has set timetables with regard to various aspects. The group has also delivered presentations. Given the considerable number of RTA representatives, I hope that the RTA will not dominate the group. It is called a community focus group, and therefore it is supposed to focus on issues that will affect the community. I hope that the RTA shows goodwill in ensuring that this occurs as the group's meetings continue over the next few months.

    Time frames have been provided for a feasibility study. I understand that investigations into the strategic location of the bridge were to commence in August this year, and next December-January there is to be an invitation for community feedback. Unfortunately, that rings alarm bells for me. All too often in my electorate community feedback seems to take place in the December-January period-in other words, at a time when people are on holidays or thinking about going on holidays, or certainly winding down, and the business community is extremely busy with Christmas trading. It is therefore not an appropriate time to invite community feedback. No doubt the RTA will have to comply with the time frames. I hope the focus group will move the period for community feedback to a reasonable period when the public can have an opportunity to clearly consider the issues that arise from the group's meetings.

    The Opposition believes it is vitally important that a new Grafton bridge be constructed, and that the matter should be moved forward and should not be delayed because of the RTA's final decisions. As I said, we are concerned that there are three phases to the project, that the strategic phase is the only phase that is being considered and funded, and that that phase will conclude with either a "go" or "no go" decision. Before that decision can be made, it is necessary to embark upon the developmental and implementation phases, which include a detailed design. Without having a detailed design, it is impossible to work out the cost of the project. There is more to be done than simply a strategic phase, and we would like that to occur.

    [Discussion interrupted.]