What future for deteriorating bridge?

DICKENSONS Creek Bridge is one of more than 100 ageing timber bridges that Greater Taree City Council is tasked to keep at a safe standard for community use.

On any given day, the bridge will bear the weight of vehicles around 200 times as drivers cross the bridge on Moto Road, which is about one kilometre from the Pacific Highway at Ghinni Ghinni. Weight restrictions now apply to the vehicles that access the bridge because of its deteriorating structural condition and it was one of two bridges earmarked for replacement as part of the Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package.

Earlier this week a cluster of cars parked either side of the bridge and local residents walked to its centre to meet with Greater Taree City Council mayor, Paul Hogan.

Cr Hogan is leading council's community education campaign about the recent loss of $12.5 million in federal government funding for the roads and bridges package. Council is fighting the federal government decision announced by Lyne MP, David Gillespie in December, and it wants the Manning Valley community to rally and support its push to get the funding allocation reinstated. Council claims the money "was a fully funded allocation in the 2011-2012 budget" and that it had already received $1.1 million from the package to enable it to tender for the investigation, survey, design and cost estimates for each project.

The right to the funds is vigorously challenged by Mr Gillespie who states that it was a hollow ALP promise and questions council's ability to manage funds and deliver its core responsibilities. Earlier this week, Mr Gillespie said he was willing to work with council but added that "council should really be seeking a 'hand-up' and not a 'hand out'", and he has written to council requesting "advice about where all the current federal funding provided to Greater City Council was being spent and whether the funds are being spent as efficiently and as wisely as possible".

Council does not hold the same view as Mr Gillespie about the allocation of federal government funds and its management of grants received from state and federal governments. Cr Hogan is now the face of council's campaign to inform the community about the impact of the loss of the roads and bridges package.

Council is distributing a fact sheet and inviting community members to write to Mr Gillespie, deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development, Warren Truss, deputy leader of the Nationals, Barnaby Joyce and senator Bill Heffernan. The fact sheet and contact information for the four politicians is available on its website.

"Greater Taree City Council face an impossible management position. They are insufficiently funded, yet responsible for a decaying inherited bridge network," Cr Hogan said.

He sets the price tag of replacing the ageing timber network of bridges with concrete structures at $35 million and until recently Dickensons Creek Bridge was at the top of council's priority list and was funded for replacement in the Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package.

About 30 people gathered on the bridge to hear Cr Hogan explain council's options regarding bridge maintenance and continued community use.

Dickensons Creek Bridge is a single lane bridge that is a critical river crossing servicing the local rural communities of Ghinni Ghinni and Moto. Its community of people work the land with dairy, grazing and crop activities and the bridge weight restrictions means trucks have to use detour routes to access the Pacific Highway. Detour one, the Kundle Kundle Road and Lansdowne Road adds 15.3 kilometres and detour two via Moto Road adds 9.3 kilometres. Cr Hogan said the longer detours impact milk tanker, cattle truck and rural produce deliveries.

"I have met with the Dyers Crossing community and now the Moto community and the message is clear, these residents are concerned and want action.

"We intend to fight tooth and nail to ensure the communities' expectations are met," Cr Hogan added.

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