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Bridge over troubled waters

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 works…

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.”

The history…

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.

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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.

Recent actions…

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.

 

 

 

What contamination?

AN Environment Protection Authority Victoria investigation has revealed there has been no contamination of the Yarra River and surrounds at Pound Bend Reserve.

A leaked incident and hazard report detailing a poorly maintained wash down facility in the Warrandyte State Park has caused much controversy since it surfaced recently and also ignited some wild speculation and guesswork on Warrandyte social media pages.

The report revealed an apparent chemical contamination of the Yarra River and surrounding vegetation within the Pound Bend workcentre.

While the validity of the report’s claims have been questioned by Friends of the Warrandyte State Park (FOWSP), the matter has seemingly been put to rest by the results of an EPA investigation which proved there was no contamination of the river or surrounds.

According to the original report, which was written on April 29 last year, the wash down facility was “used to pressure wash vehicles, to triple rinse chemical containers and to mix/fill herbicides for use in the park”.

The report revealed the facility led to chemical drainage into the Yarra River and consequent nearby tree death. It also claimed “the wash bay doesn’t meet any legal requirements and if the EPA was informed, PV would face serious fines”.

The report surfaced in early January and was published by major news outlets. The allegations caused uproar from the media and general public as many were led to believe the issue was ongoing.

“These are shocking revelations of the Yarra being poisoned in a secret government report which Daniel Andrews has tried to bury,” said shadow environment minister Brad Battin.

“Daniel Andrews needs to order a full investigation into what’s been done to stop this environmental vandalism,” he added.

In response to the abundance of reports and articles, Friends of the Warrandyte State Park (FOWSP) committee of management addressed the accusations for the Diary in an official statement.

“We are not aware of any negative impact to the environment as detailed in the report – there is no out-of-the-ordinary dead vegetation downhill of the ‘wash-down’ facility. We would, of course, be greatly concerned, if this were the case.

“FOWSP enjoys a close working relationship with the rangers who operate from the Pound Bend workcentre. Their concern for safety and the environment is not only paramount, but it’s their job. As such, we do not believe that any of their staff would knowingly be a party to the actions in the aforementioned report.”

Committee member of the FOWSP Jason Patton elaborated on this with a list of his own personal observations after attaining a copy of the infamous report.

“There is NO tree death downhill from the site – well, actually there is one dead tree among a stand of healthy trees,” he told the Diary.

“The Yarra River is some 200m downhill from the site, including crossing an 80m alluvial plain. Is anyone aware of any water quality checks that prove that the Yarra has been contaminated from this site?

“I am not versed in the operation of the containment facility (pits, etc), but I CAN say that from my many visits there, it is designed as a retention basin to prevent release of poisons to the surrounding environment.”

The report certainly raises questions as there is no sign of river contamination or dead vegetation at the time of its public release.

However, local MP Ryan Smith said the report would have been filled in by the Warrandyte State Park rangers themselves.

“In this case, Parks Vic rangers themselves would have filled in the report as they noticed the effects of the waste water on surrounding vegetation. So, in short, this is a self-acknowledged incident, not a report done by an external party,” he said.

“The Warrandyte State Park rangers would have noted it for their bosses. What happens then was a decision for those higher up the chain.”

On January 20, Parks Victoria released a statement with the results of the EPA’s recent investigation into Warrandyte State Park’s waste management practices.

The EPA confirmed there was “no current contamination of the Yarra from these herbicides” and “minor herbicide contamination of soil near the wash bay” at the Warrandyte Depot.

Parks Victoria chief executive Bradley Fauteux revealed that resolution of the incident commenced in June of 2015.

“I am pleased that there is no current evidence of herbicides being washed into the Yarra. Herbicide washing in the facility ceased in June last year after the issue was flagged by staff in an internal occupational, health and safety report,” Mr Fauteux said.

“Trucks now come in to remove sediment. We have commenced an investigation and an immediate and ongoing state-wide review of our facilities, including wash bay facilities and reporting procedures.”

While the issue appears to be somewhat resolved, Mr Smith said he did not find that explanation conclusive enough.

“There has been no feedback about why practices allowed it to happen or what has actually been done to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “The response seems to have been ‘OK, it was wrong, it’s fixed, please move on’. I think that locals need more reassurance than this.”

Mr Patton, on the other hand, remains sceptical about the accuracy of the report in the first place.

“I do not believe that there ever was any contamination, from the lack of dead vegetation. The ‘report’, which is merely five bullet-points, would appear to be written by someone who does not have an understanding of the area, for example, a temp worker, or visitor.

“Unfortunately, the public and media have jumped on the report, and taken it verbatim – no investigation of the site.”

Fire guts house close to main street in Warrandyte

A FIRE has gutted a house in Brackenbury Street in Warrandyte today as more than seven CFA trucks attend the blaze.

Firefighters are at the scene containing the fire, which is only a few hundred metres away from Yarra Street, Warrandyte’s busy main strip. At this stage it is unknown what caused the fire and it is believed the house had no people present.

Neighbours called 000 after smelling smoke today at about 1.30pm. Resident Cassie Jones told the Diary she could smell smoke for about half an hour before taking a look around the area to see where it was coming from.

“The CFA trucks were here within minutes,” she told the Diary. “That same house only had a chimney fire that did some damage just a few years ago as well.”

It is believed the house is in ruins with fire coming through the side walls and rooftop with large amounts of smoke billowing out and across the eastern suburb.

More to follow.

 

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Jock and Steve the toast of the town

WARRANDYTE’S Jock Macneish and Steve Pascoe have been recognised for their great services to the community by each receiving an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).

Announced on Australia Day, Jock, our much loved Diary cartoonist and master of many talents, was recognised for his service to the visual arts and to the community of Warrandyte. Steve, a legendary figure at the Warrandyte Cricket Club, was recognised for his service to cricket.

Both popped into the Diary this morning for a photo shoot and you can read all about it in the February edition of your CNAV Newspaper of the Year (back to back) Monday week.

 

New operator being sought for Warrandyte Community Market

MANNINGHAM council is seeking applications from not for profit community groups based in Manningham to operate the Warrandyte Community Market from April 2016.

The Warrandyte Community Market is held in the Warrandyte River Reserve on the first Saturday of each month (excluding January) with a second market held in on the third Saturday in December each year.

The decision to seek a new operator for the market has been made to resolve management issues at the market and follows extensive liaison between council and the existing Warrandyte Community Market Committee over the past two years.

In the interim, a working group has been set up to operate the market until a successful market operator has been selected. This interim group, comprising representatives from the Warrandyte Lions Club, Warrandyte Donvale Rotary Club, North Warrandyte CFA, Community Church and Be Ready Warrandyte, will operate the February and March 2016 markets.

Prospective market operators must demonstrate that they have the capacity, capability and skills to manage the community market, including effective governance through a properly constituted committee.

The successful operator will enter into a licence agreement with council for a term of three years, and will commence operation from the April 2016 market (Saturday 2 April).

Applications are required by at 11am on Wednesday 17 February 2016 and must be received by this time.

For more information, visit www.tendersearch.com.au/manningham or call Paul Goodison, Council’s Co-ordinator Landscape and Leisure on 9840 9460.

Full report to follow in the next edition of the Diary, February 8.