Bridge over troubled waters
IN a surprise move the Andrews State Government has committed to $5.1 million funding for major works to Warrandyte Bridge that includes widening it in an aim to reduce congestion and boost safety in Warrandyte by making it quicker and easier for residents to evacuate during emergencies.
Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan, Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green and ALP Senate candidate for Victoria Steve Kent made a sudden visit to the bridge last week to announce the plan.
The funding is for a project to widen the bridge to three lanes and build a new pedestrian path across the Yarra River. Two of the lanes will be for southbound traffic travelling from North Warrandyte to Warrandyte and the existing footpaths on either side of the bridge will be removed and replaced with a footpath on one side of the bridge.
Improvements will also be made to accommodate an extra lane of traffic from the bridge at the roundabout at the Yarra Street and Warrandyte-Ringwood Rd roundabout. Traffic lights will also be installed at a wider Kangaroo Ground-Warrandyte Rd and Research-Warrandyte Rd intersection. Drivers travelling across the bridge on Kangaroo Ground-Warrandyte Rd regularly experience significant traffic congestion and long delays. The press release went on to state that according to traffic modelling data about 2500 vehicles per hour would potentially travel southbound across the bridge during an emergency evacuation compared with the current 1100 vehicles per hour during a typical morning peak.
The works will take place either side of the fire danger season and are expected to start next month and be completed by the end of 2017.
Mr Donnellan said:“We’re widening the bridge to ensure the safety of locals by reducing evacuation times by up to 90 minutes. We have listened to the community and we’re delivering a safer and more efficient bridge.”
Ms Green said: “Crossing Warrandyte Bridge, especially in the event of an emergency, has been a serious concern for the local community for many years and we’re fixing it. We’ve listened to local residents and we’re building the infrastructure that they need for a safer community.”
This announcement comes after increased community anger in the past two months (and longer) at the rapidly escalating delays to traffic traversing Warrandyte in the morning peak period, afternoon school period, and the early evening, which until this month had no funding in sight nor any state government will to resolve the problem. It might be useful to recap the events leading up to the announcement.
At the end of 2014 VicRoads installed folded signs and Displan boxes on each side of the bridge to assist in traffic control and one- way operation in emergency and evacuation situations, but this did nothing to solve the day-to-day problems of peak-hour gridlock.
In April last year Jennie Hill founded the “Fix the Warrandyte Bridge Bottleneck” Facebook group with many posts per day and more than 250 members. Note: not an official body, but merely a page with a constructive mission to create some noise and make something happen.
In June last year, after extensive lobbying over more than 12 months by Warrandyte Community Association (WCA) and supported by Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley, VicRoads regional director Adam Maguire obtained funding of $140,000 to conduct a feasibility study and modelling to look at the road network around Warrandyte Bridge in both day-to-day and emergency situations.
In November last year at a WCA Emergency Management forum the results of this modelling and four alternative scenarios and their costs were presented, summarised as illustrated below.
Only the second of these options would in fact help in a non-emergency day-by-day situation.
And that is where the situation had stalled.
The only funding that had come through was for the installation of four traffic-monitoring webcams which are the subject of a separate article in this edition of the Diary.
So, with nothing further being done, the rush-hour situation is getting worse daily, and is particularly compounded when there are traffic accidents or blockages either in Warrandyte or on the Fitzsimons Lane bridge. Such major disruptions have happened twice in February, on the 3rd and 19th, and resulting in traffic for Warrandyte banking up most of the way to Research. An excellent video of the latter is to be found on the Fix the Warrandyte Bridge Bottleneck Facebook group page. And on February 18 a bad accident closed Kangaroo Ground Road in the morning peak hour.
On February 19 Ms Hill and local resident Belinda Steve met with Ryan Smith, Member for Warrandyte, to investigate what could further be done to have some funding and action. Mr Smith produced a large file of correspondence on the matter including Hansards and letters to Luke Donnellan MP the Minister for Roads and Road Safety. He was so frustrated with the lack of action and funding by the Victorian government that he rose in the house on February 10 to make a member’s statement on Warrandyte Bridge. Mr Smith told the house: “Whilst the minister was finally pushed, kicking and screaming, into reallocating the funding the previous coalition government had set aside for work to be done to provide options for the traffic problems in Warrandyte, he has not provided Warrandyte residents the opportunity for input. Nor has any funding been allocated for a solution to be implemented … fed-up residents have now formed the Fix the Warrandyte Bottleneck group and are demanding that the minister takes action.”
It is evident Mr Smith continues to be a strong advocate for residents’ concerns now, although his party (when in office) scrapped completion of the M80 Greensborough-East- link “missing link”, a project which has now been pushed out into the next decade which will do nothing to ease the problem in the short term.
However, in more recent times Mr Smith expressed his frustration with the continuing “obfustication” and lack of will to do anything about the local traffic problem. He suggested he may be seen as a lone voice, and that perhaps it would make more impact if residents wrote directly to the minister expressing their frustration.
Just as the Diary was about to publicise a “write to the minister” campaign, the Government appears to have caved in on the matter and the new announcement was made.
Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley has also been a strong supporter of funding and has urged the government to act.
The media release…
We find it odd local community groups and the local Member for Warrandyte Ryan Smith, who has done so much for the cause, were not invited to attend the announcement. We at the Diary were only informed the day before and given we’re a part- time office missed attending. We also find it difficult to understand the role of Danielle Green in this as the Yan Yean electorate does not come any- where near Warrandyte and wonder why defeated ALP candidate Steve Kent was in attendance. The press release announces traffic lights for the Kangaroo Ground-Warrandyte and Research-Warrandyte road T-intersection, which was not part of the original VicRoads presentation in November. It also states the works will take place outside the fire danger season and are expected to start next month. However, the fire danger season does not officially end until May 1.
The announcement also makes no mention of any further community consultation, something which has clearly angered residents who have vented on social media.
Dick Davies, president of the Warrandyte Community Association, says: “It’s good that the State Government has addressed the concerns about gridlock after at least 10 years agitation for some action. However, the lack of community consultation, promised by VicRoads in their November and December visits to Warrandyte, is astonishing. After all, residents who actually use the road at different times are most aware of the problems. The modelling quoted in the press release is a desk study based on Emergency Evacuation assumptions not actual data on daily traffic movements as advocated by the WCA. VicRoads will be present at the Warrandyte Festival. It will be an occasion to discuss the plan with them and see if there is room to be more inclusive of community views.”
Other initiatives the Bottleneck group suggested:
Trial traffic lights to operate between 3pm and 6pm at the round- about south of the bridge
Guidelines making Warrandyte roads subject to heavy vehicle exclusions or restrictions on safety grounds (narrow, winding roads)
Guidelines to keep roads not designed for high traffic (including Dingley Dell, Lewis, Blooms, Boyd, Hawkes and Floods Roads) free from traffic trying to evade bridge bottlenecks.
In the medium term, completion of an emergency bridge for bushfire management, possibly at the end of Bradley’s Lane or at another agreed location.
In the longer term, completion of the M80 to Eastlink gap or construction of at least one more permanent bridge across the Yarra somewhere between the Eltham crossing and the Yarra Glen crossing.