Bridge advisory panel walks a rocky road
by Sandi Miller
8th August 2017
An Urban Design Advisory Panel (UDAP) has been formed to represent the Warrandyte community with regards to the aesthetic elements of the works planned for the Warrandyte Bridge.
VicRoads Acting Director of Operations Metro North West, Fatima Mohamed, told the Diary that any design changes will be guided by the outcome of the Panel meetings.
“In addition to extensive community consultation already undertaken, an Urban Design Advisory Panel has been established to provide an opportunity for the wider Warrandyte community to provide feedback on bridge design, such as to the look and feel of the upgraded bridge and retaining wall and footpath finishes,” she said.
VicRoads has provided terms of reference which outline the topics the UDAP will be consulted on, including:
• Outer bridge railing (design, colour, finish).
• Bridge abutment treatment and finish.
• Footpath surface colour and treatment.
• Pedestrian movement — including possible under bridge crossing (with connections to the river trail).
• Retaining wall treatments surface and finish.
• Retaining wall pedestrian railings.
• Bollards to approaches.
• Landscape integration including replacement of the large Eucalypts which frame the southern bridge approach.
• Rock beaching to drainage outlets and batters (local rock preferred).
Panel members will be asked to provide advice and make decisions on the above topics on behalf of the wider Warrandyte community.
At the bottom of this article is an image gallery with excerpts from the presentation given by VicRoads in the first meeting.
The presentation gives details on bridge specs and the types of materials being proposed by VicRoads.
The panel is made up of a cross section of the Warrandyte community who will bring divergent views to the panel:
David Carty, John Chapman, Theresa Dawson, Geoff Flicking, Kyle Gillan, Bambi Gordon, Leigh Hearn, Jennie Hill, Jeremy Loftus-Hills and Sasha Reid.
The meetings are chaired by an independent facilitator responsible for guiding discussions to reach decisions for two to three topics at the end of each meeting.
FIRST MEETING: DOWN TO BUSINESS
A report of the initial meeting was provided to the Diary by panel member Bambi Gordon.
The meeting began with an overview of the first task for the Panel, which was to agree upon the objectives for the bridge works — and in fact the Panel itself.
It was agreed that members would evaluate all options in the area of landscaping, environmental management, bridge finishes and so on against the stated objective to achieve “a functional bridge which is sympathetic to and reflects the environments and the character of the town in the design and finish”.
Some changes had already been made (prior to the UDAP meeting) based on earlier objections received.
The primary change to the plan was the addition of a shared footpath on the eastern side of the bridge.
This then had a flow-on effect of requiring a pedestrian crossing on the northern side of the bridge to allow for people to access both footpaths from the north.
The panel were against a pedestrian crossing on the northern end of the bridge due to the potential delay of traffic during peak hours.
However, the panel was also concerned about having the pedestrian crossing on the southern end and it was generally agreed that this crossing needs to be under the bridge — whether that requires some steps down to ground level and back up to Yarra Street, or a slung pedestrian pathway under the bridge.
Both options for a pedestrian crossing at the southern end will entail the potential removal of one or two trees — a further concern for some members as was the retention of the prunus trees that could be impacted by the addition of a left hand turn slip lane on Yarra Street.
The panel ended the meeting with a number of questions for VicRoads and the bridge architect to consider.
In general, the panel were respectful of each other and though no decisions were made on the night it is the Panel’s aim to come to those decisions over the further three scheduled meetings.
Following the first meeting Kyle Gillan, who represents the WCA, told the Diary he was concerned with a comment from VicRoads engineer William Nottle.
In his introductory comments to the panel Mr Nottle noted the project intends to double the amount of traffic through Warrandyte in the morning peak.
“When [Mr Nottle was] pressed on the projected number of additional cars in Warrandyte he answered he could only comment on queue lengths and not increased traffic volumes.
“The impact on the amenity and character of the town is of utmost importance to the WCA.
“That is why the panel is helping to mitigate the broader effects of the project by ensuring we get the very best design for Warrandyte,” said Mr Gillan
SECOND MEETING: PROCEEDINGS TURN SOUR
The panel members returned to their respective groups to report on the proceedings, which initiated some heated discussion online.
Ms Gordon reported to the Diary the Facebook vitriol spilled into the second meeting, so proceedings did not run so smoothly:
The second meeting of the UDAP was in stark contrast to the first.
Prior to the meeting commencing, one of the members demanded 15 minutes to read a prepared statement to complain about a post made on Facebook a few days earlier by another member.
A representative from the Historical Society also addressed this same post.
At issue for both members was that a post on the Fix the Warrandyte Bridge Facebook Group referred to them as members of the WCA – which they are not.
The post also commented that they had been against the bridge widening.
Again they stressed that they are not against the bridge widening.
With regard to the social media post the administrator of that group has since apologised for her assumption.
It should also be noted, at no time did the post name any members of the UDAP.
These and many of the UDAP members still have objections to various aspects of the plan and it is unclear how they will proceed if these objections are not addressed satisfactorily.
Once the meeting commenced it very quickly went off the tracks with members wanting to make presentations and give submissions, which is outside the remit of UDAP.
The various issues discussed at this second meeting, within the nine issues that UDAP is instructed to make recommendations upon were: landscape integration, pedestrian movement, pathway surfaces, beaching under bridge, retaining walls and new sections of bridge abutment.
Regarding “landscape integration” and “surfaces” UDAP made recommendations, but in the most part the recommendations were for further investigation.
For all the other issues UDAP has asked for further investigation.
The meeting was very heated, with raised voices and direct criticism of the VicRoads representatives.
At one point a member left (and was encouraged to re-join by one of the VicRoads Stakeholder Engagement staff).
A few of the members have since said they hold little hope in UDAP being able to agree upon recommendations for the nine design issues, that the level of vitriol and disrespect makes the process very uncomfortable.
These members also suspect there are some people who will continue to disagree simply to indefinitely delay the project.
They are also concerned that one member of UDAP has already stated quite firmly that if the changes they want are not made the bridge widening will not proceed, while another has said they will “sit here for six months” if their changes are not made.
Meanwhile, VicRoads has told the Diary the contractor has begun work in preparation to commence construction.
“We have appointed a contractor which has begun off-site works which are not tied to the planning process and we intend to commence on-site activities in the coming months,” Ms Mohamed said.
This is despite The Diary being led to believe that one member of UDAP is considering taking the matter to VCAT, which could delay the commencement of works until at least next year.
As we go to print, three members of the advisory panel are considering whether to continue with their role.