Bridge over troubled water

by David Hogg
8th August 2016

Change of direction at VicRoads forum

About 350 residents attended an information session run by Vic Roads at the Warrandyte Community Church last month, an event facilitated and encouraged by (not run by) the Warrandyte Community Association.

Residents were somewhat unclear as to the form this event would take. Some had expected a sit-down meeting with presentations, some had expected workshop sessions and others had expected a less formal static presentation where residents could “drop-in” at some point in the evening. It was also unclear beforehand as to whether VicRoads were using this as a method of disseminating information as to what they were proposing or alternatively seeking community views before the design being finalised.

Attendees were asked to register their details and were provided with a brochure Information Update.

On entering the main hall attendees found a number of tables displaying the proposed plans, each staffed by one or more VicRoads staff who were kept busy all evening discussing details with residents. It was difficult to know whether each table was displaying some different scenario so attendees were expected to attend each table, or whether the information was the same at each table. Police were present and happy to discuss evacuation scenarios.

Two “focus group” sessions had been scheduled in another room.

MAJOR CHANGES

Much of the information provided in the Information Update has already been covered in earlier editions of the Diary. It became obvious, however, there had recently been a serious re-think of the strategy. The original proposal announced by the minister in March was for a bridge widening project based solely on the need to evacuate the area in the case of a serious bush fire. Now VicRoads were presenting us with alternative solutions which also take into account the ever increasing daily traffic congestion in Warrandyte.

The major changes under review:

CONSIDERATION is being given to a providing a roundabout on the north side of the bridge instead of the proposed traffic lights.

IT is intended to increase the length of turning lanes on Research Rd for traffic approaching Kangaroo Ground Rd.

A NEW turning lane eastbound on Yarra St is proposed to be introduced at the roundabout, so there will be a separate lane for left turning traffic going across the bridge (able to hold about four vehicles), and a right-hand lane for vehicles proceeding straight on towards Ringwood.

THERE is mention of a new pedestrian crossing at the roundabout on the west side, but details of this are scant.

NONE of this work will commence this year; it will be done after the upcoming bush fire season in time for the 2017-2018 season. It was previously planned the traffic lights would be installed by November this year: this will not happen.

The proposed revised timeline is… July-November 2016: Design, services and pre-construction. December 2016: Advertise works. Early to mid 2017: Contract awarded. Construction begins. Late 2017: Construction ends.

COMMUNITY REACTION

Most of the attendees the Diary spoke to during the evening did not want these changes at all, and although frustrated by the current traffic jams and bottlenecks felt these changes would not only detract from the village atmosphere of Warrandyte but would attract even more vehicles to the area. There was almost universal acceptance a roundabout north of the river would be far preferable to traffic lights operating 24 hours per day which would be a complete eyesore. However, some Kangaroo Ground Rd residents expressed concern a roundabout would complicate the morning traffic flow and southbound traffic on KG Rd would be locked out by south-turning traffic from Research Rd.

A diagram was provided on the reverse of the Information Update brochure, which purported to show the morning and evening congestion overlaid with other plots showing a vast improvement after the works would be completed. This was met with disbelief by many and VicRoads staff, when asked, were unable to provide any data to back this up or substantiate these projections which most people did not think were attainable. The general consensus was all this work was just fiddling around the edges and the real solution was to take the long-distance traffic away from the area by completing the north-east link of the ring road.

It was disappointing at this stage there were no artists impressions of what the updated bridge would look like, and more particularly what the cantilevered pedestrian walkway would look like. We did, however, gather the latter is to be on the west side of the bridge.

WORKSHOP FOCUS GROUP

Reports from those who attended the workshop sessions indicated most people were of the opinion they did not want the bridge upgrade and associated works, and had not ever been consulted on same. We are told the mood became quite agitated, and senior VicRoads staff were summoned to come back into the room to be told this. Again this showed the disconnect between the expectation of the attendees versus that of VicRoads. VicRoads has funding for these works and their brief is to go ahead and implement them. What VicRoads presumably wanted to get out of the evening was information as to how to implement the changes. Many attendees, however, were trying to make a point that they did not want the works at all, which was not VicRoads decision to make! To VicRoads it is a done deal.

WHERE TO NEXT?

A feedback form was provided to attendees and they were encouraged to complete it and send it to VicRoads. Their online engagement page on the web stayed open until July 31, and residents were encouraged to log in and leave comments. VicRoads would not commit to a specific timeframe or process for further community discussion or for their making a decision, particularly with regard to whether to go ahead with a roundabout or traffic lights on the north side. Rather, they would produce a report which would go to senior VicRoads management and a decision would be made in due course following community input. Obviously rm decisions would have to be made before December as that is when it is proposed to advertise the work for tender.

WCA spokesman Warwick Leeson told the Diary WCA continued to be very concerned at the lack of ongoing process for community views to be taken into account. WCA would be organising more opportunities for community engagement in early October and would invite the Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley and senior VicRoads staff to be involved.

Mr Leeson indicated that although originally launched as an initiative for bush re and emergency evacuation, they now understood the bulk of funding was in fact coming out of the general allocation for traffic improvement. WCA was particularly concerned as a huge amount of local effort over the past few years had gone into making people aware of the bush re dangers and the need to leave home well in advance on Code Red days or on other danger days if householders are not capable of staying and defending. Yet some say this latest government action lies in the face of that advice and implies the bridge will be safe and last minute evacuation will be acceptable.

What’s your view? Email the editor at editor@warrandytediary.com.au