Works to bring more bridge closures

By Jared Loughnan

Bridge closures and delays might become part of normal life in the next 12 months with $5 million to be spent on upgrading the main Yarrawonga Mulwala traffic bridge.

And a flyer circulated to residents by Transport of NSW about maintenance works of the main Yarrawonga-Mulwala bridge has also put further panic into local residents indicating motorists may have to travel via Corowa and Cobram in 2021 to cross the border.

Any short-term simultaneous closing of both bridges would be disastrous for both communities as they rely on each other for many essential living purposes such as work, health and education.

The Yarrawonga Chronicle contacted Transport of NSW to clarify the content in the flyer which also indicated bridge maintenance was to be completed by June 2021 before the weir bridge is permanently closed off to vehicular traffic.

Transport for NSW Director South West, Lindsay Tanner allayed fears of a simultaneous closing of both bridges should maintenance go beyond June 30, 2021.

“The $5 million planned maintenance work will be carried out in stages during the coming year before the weir crossing closes, to minimise the likelihood of unplanned bridge closures in the future,” Mr Tanner said.

With the interests of the border communities in mind, Transport for NSW has been working with the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to ensure the weir crossing will not close until the planned maintenance on Mulwala Bridge is complete.”

During the maintenance works the Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge will be closed and traffic will be diverted via the weir bridge.  Most of the work will carried out during the evenings from 9pm and 6pm from Monday to Thursday.  Several day closures will be required to set up equipment and prepare the bridge for works.  A full weekend closure is expected during later stages of the work.

The first stage of the maintenance works involves replacing a vertical strut that has been damaged by a wide load and is expected to take up to three months to replace. Stage two and three are expected to start early next year and includes upgrading barrier rails, structural repairs to the concrete piers and beams and improving the pedestrian path.

What has put fear into local residents was the statement in the flyer; “Once the weir has closed to traffic next year, motorists travelling between Mulwala and Yarrawonga will need to detour via Corowa in NSW or Cobram in Victoria when Mulwala bridge is closed.”

Adding more insult, it then goes on to say;

“We recognise the impact of this additional travel for residents and visitors to the region and are planning to carry out several stages of proactive bridge maintenance.”

Far from proactive, both the NSW and Victorian road authorities have sat on the issue of building a new bridge crossing or even doing any major upgrades of the existing bridge since the weir’s managing authorities Murray Darling Basin Association (MDBA) announced they will be closing the bridge in 2020 way back in 2002. 

Yarrawonga residents and local businesses are yet to receive any formal notification of bridge maintenance or closures. 

Stage one was planned to start in this month but with the NSW/Vic border closure now in place Transport for NSW have postponed the works.

Mr Tanner said the NSW road authority continues to work with Regional Roads Victoria to plan a new Yarrawonga-Mulwala Bridge.

“The community will be notified in advance of any future work on the bridge,” he said.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), Transport for NSW and Regional Roads Victoria all confirmed the July 2021 closure date of the weir bridge on January 31 this year.

The MDBA head of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, said the crossing was being closed to ensure the ongoing safety of workers and to preserve the integrity of the weir, which performs a vital function in the operation of the Murray River.

On average, 1,200 crossings of the weir crossing are made each day, compared with 8,500 crossings of the Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge. Once the weir bridge is closed to vehicular traffic people will still be able to walk or ride their bikes across the weir.”

Transport for NSW did not confirm how much time the $5 million Yarrawonga Mulwala Bridge maintenance program will provide both state governments to then plan and build a new bridge crossing for the community.