“Nightmare” on Belmore St

By Jared Loughnan

A report that recommends to further delay the building of a new replacement bridge for Yarrawonga Mulwala along with an expected new load limit on the Burley Road channel bridge has been described as a “nightmare” result for Belmore Street. 

Heavy vehicles will soon be detoured away from using the Burley Road channel bridge placing more pressure on Irvine Parade and Belmore Street.  

Moira Shire Chief Executive Officer Mark Henderson confirmed that the Burley Road Bridge load limit was “imminent and a detour proposal is with RMS and VicRoads for sign off”.

“We won’t have to wait till 2020 to see what it’s like when the weir wall closes to through traffic,” Mr Henderson said.

Mr Henderson told the Yarrawonga Chronicle that GMW (Goulburn Murray Water) has asked the shire to place a temporary load limit on the Burley Road bridge while it does an engineering assessment on the structure.

“If the load limit stays then all heavy vehicles will need to use the road bridge through Belmore Street or turn onto Irvine Parade to connect to the Murray Valley Highway,” he said.

GMW and the Murray Darling Basin Commission plans to close the Yarrawonga Weir Bridge to traffic in 2020 and there are now fresh concerns that the expected increase of traffic along with an increase of heavy vehicles diverted onto the 1918 built Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge could cause major safety issues, gridlocks and even have a detrimental effect on the economy until a new bridge is built. 

According to the Murray River Crossing Investment Priority Assessment report that was prepared by RMS and VicRoads, investment for a new bridge for Yarrawonga Mulwala will fall behind six other bridges along the Murray River which includes bridges in Tooleybuc, Swan Hill, Towong and the John Foord Bridge at Corowa.  

The report has shelved a replacement bridge, which is expected to cost in excess of $100 million, as a “mid-term priority” where investment is only aimed at planning for growth and likely to be only required within five to 10 years.

Moira and Federation Shire Councils have expressed their concerns about the lower priority rating. 

“The methodology for the ranking is sound but the scoring for the Yarrawonga Mulwala bridge is fundamentally flawed. Comparing a long, curved bridge over a lake with a short, straight bridge over a river is like apples and oranges, fundamentally different,” Mr Henderson said.

“When the weir bridge closes to traffic in 2020 Belmore Street will be a nightmare, particularly with a big grain harvest accessing the rail loading facility on Benalla Road. 

“There’s no evidence that VicRoads is making any progress on connecting the road bridge to the Murray Valley Highway via Irvine Parade,” he said.

Mr Henderson agreed that it is a possibility the main traffic bridge could potentially, after 2020, be made one lane as a result of safety issues and excess loads.

“It’s a real possibility because the report identifies bridges with the same overall carriageway width as the Yarrawonga Mulwala bridge as being one way, and they’re straight, short bridges.

Federation Council General Manager Adrian Butler told the Yarrawonga Chronicle that Federation Council is very concerned that the Yarrawonga Mulwala bridge has been listed as only a medium term priority given the impending closure of the weir bridge in 2020 and the resulting extra traffic, in particular heavy vehicles, on the existing substandard bridge.  

“Council will be considering this further at an upcoming council meeting and corresponding further with both RMS and VicRoads along with Moira Shire on this issue,” Mr Butler said.

“Whilst the John Foord Bridge at Corowa Wahgunyah is listed as a short term priority, potentially above the Yarrawonga Mulwala crossing, the report needs to be interpreted in context and the works recommended are only relatively minor in comparison to the total replacement for Yarrawonga Mulwala,” Mr Butler said.

Both Federation and Moira Shire Council chiefs also expressed their disappointment of the stakeholder engagement process of the report commissioned by the road authorities to high end consultants Deloitte and SMEC. 

“RMS made contact with Federation Council to outline that a report had been completed, but to date council have not been asked to provide input or be consulted with in regards to any of the assessments,” Mr Butler said.

“Council hopes that the Yarrawonga-Mulwala bridge replacement priority can be increased to more accurately reflect the constraints of the current bridge, the growth of the area, and the current and future freight task,” he said.

Mr Henderson said the report is “quite narrow” in its scope and should be used for its initial purpose, which was to guide scarce bridge maintenance funding. 

“Publishing it as a bridge replacement priority document without any chance for community engagement totally ignores the population and freight growth the bridge will need to cope with over its life,” Mr Henderson said.

Yarrawonga has been identified as a future “key regional centre” by the Victorian Planning Authority due to its relatively high growth rate which has been identified by the 2017 Yarrawonga Growth Management Study as +2.9%.   The road authorities report states that the annual growth rate of Yarrawonga’s population is just +0.9%.