MULWALA CANAL BRIDGE
Mr GREG APLIN
(Albury) [6.10 p.m.]: Pedestrian movement across the Mulwala Canal Bridge has been a significant safety concern since Mrs Tricia Cummins first raised the issue with me in December 2005. In her letter, Mrs Cummins described the frightening scene of a young mother with her children in a pushchair being forced to run across one lane of the bridge because the pushchair would not fit on the narrow walkway. Several vehicles were travelling on the bridge in the opposite direction during this dash. Mulwala is a town in Corowa shire located on the western side of Lake Mulwala, which is renowned for its fishing and water sports and which acts as an irrigation storage. Along with Yarrawonga on the Victorian side of the lake, the area has experienced strong population growth, with retirees and young families flocking to reside in this wonderful inland aquatic paradise.
Mulwala's population of 1985 swells to around 6,000 during the summer and Easter holiday seasons. The Mulwala Canal Bridge is positioned on State road 314 at the commencement of Melbourne Street, the main street in Mulwala. It crosses the only off-take canal for the Murray irrigation area and links residents in North Mulwala to the main business and recreational areas. There are four caravan parks in North Mulwala catering for tourists all year round. In its current form the Mulwala Canal Bridge provides a crossing for vehicles but control boxes installed by Murray Irrigation restrict the width of the pedestrian walkway for bicycles, prams and motorised wheelchairs. Pedestrian access is clearly subservient to the mechanical requirements of the irrigation system.
The result is that residents and tourists have to move onto the road and walk the length of the bridge with no separation from the traffic and no escape route once they are on the bridge. It is literally a rat run for mothers with prams and strollers, as they try to time their crossing to avoid traffic. This is not a wide bridge. It is a narrow canal crossing with no room for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles to be on the same side of the road safely at the same time. The walking and cycle tracks leading to the bridge basically force people onto the roadway. Mulwala residents like Ken McLean, the Mulwala Progress Association, Corowa Shire Council and I have all brought this safety issue to the attention of the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA], Murray Irrigation and a succession of roads Ministers since 2005.
Corowa Shire Council staff have been working steadfastly on this matter and have completed traffic and pedestrian safety audits, worked with the Roads and Traffic Authority on a pedestrian access and mobility plan, attended multiple meetings and produced designs for a safe pedestrian crossing. Following several representations and questions to the Minister for Roads, the then Parliamentary Secretary and now Minister responded in July 2007, advising that Corowa Shire Council should submit a proposal to the Roads and Traffic Authority for funding a pedestrian walkway. Minister Daley then stated, "Council would fund 50 per cent of the project's cost as part of the RTA's cycleway program."
The Federal Government's recent allocation of funds to councils under the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program has enabled Corowa Shire Council to identify the Mulwala Canal pedestrian walkway as its number one priority for community wellbeing. Accordingly, the council earmarked a large proportion of these Federal funds for the project and advised the Roads and Traffic Authority of an application for the other 50 per cent of the cost under the authority's cycleway program. The council was astounded to be informed by the Roads and Traffic Authority that the cycleway program had an insufficient budget and that if the request for $200,000 were approved, it would drain all funding for the entire region.
This rejection of the funding application came after the then Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Minister for Roads directed the council to submit a proposal for funding under this very program in July 2007. Then, in response to my question seeking advice on progress of the project in September of that year, the Minister advised that, "Council can submit a proposal to the RTA for the funding and construction of a pedestrian walkway over the Mulwala Canal under the RTA's 50:50 cycleway program." But the Minister's office and the Roads and Traffic Authority are clearly not in communication about such matters. Although there has been ministerial and Roads and Traffic Authority involvement in this road safety project since January 2006, no action has been taken to make funding provision over the past three years and now it appears that there is no funding after all. It is like some Monty Python parody—perhaps the dead parrot sketch: It's not dead; it's just sleeping!
The latest State Government advice to Corowa Shire Council is to pursue blackspot funding from the Federal Government. If the State Government had no intention or ability to fund this pedestrian walkway, why was has the council been misled since 2006? As I mentioned earlier, Corowa Shire Council set aside 50 per cent of the cost of providing pedestrian access at the Mulwala Canal Bridge, but under the criteria for the Federal Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program the project has to be completed by September 2009. It is time for the Minister for Roads to come good with the remaining 50 per cent of the cost. This is an ideal opportunity to fix a pedestrian deathtrap on a State road. Otherwise, as the officer in charge of Mulwala police station stated to me, "I can see that at some stage I will be picking up the pieces hopefully not as the tearful, grief-ridden father."