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Bridge of confusion

By SANDI MILLER

THE announcement of changes to the Warrandyte Bridge reported in last month’s Diary has polarised the Warrandyte community.

While some residents are applauding VicRoads’ plan, there are many who are unhappy with the lack of community consultation.

President of the Warrandyte Community Association (WCA) Dick Davies said there had been a huge backlash over a lack of community engagement.

“It doesn’t really matter whether people were in favour of it or against it or want Warrandyte to remain the same. I think they have managed to antagonise most people because there wasn’t any community consultation,” said Mr Davies.

One plan that was mooted in the community forum last November, but is now seemingly discarded by VicRoads, was for another bridge for use during emergencies from Reynolds Road to Blackburn Road.

Jan Freemen, who has set up a petition to gather support for the second bridge concept, is angry authorities have made their mind up without asking the community.

“The state government seems hellbent on a solution in Warrandyte which many do not agree with,” she said.

State Minister for Roads, Luke Donnellan, and Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Shaun Leane, have highlighted the re evacuation benefits with both citing modelling which will see evacuation times reduced.

“This plan will potentially reduce emergency evacuation times for drivers travelling south over the bridge by up to 90 minutes,” said Mr Leane.

Member for Warrandyte Ryan Smith said while he has had some very positive feedback about the plan, it was disappointing that community consultation did not eventuate.

“I still think there is an opportunity to put a public meeting in place so people can retrospectively talk about what they would like to see as enhancements to the proposal,” he said.

Since the announcement several Facebook groups have been the scene of heated discussion, some in support of the plan and others vehemently opposed to the changes to the bridge.

There is major confusion over whether the changes are being implemented to ease the notorious morning traffic congestion or as a public safety measure in the event of bushfire.

Spokesperson for the Facebook group Save Our Bridge, Sasha Reid, told the Diary the changes were being promoted as a public safety initiative, which is contradictory to the CFA’s leave early message.

“It’s being presented as a solution to doomsday catastrophic fire scenarios and if there are days when that is possible, such as Black Saturday, then perhaps people shouldn’t be here,” Ms Reid said.

Local fire brigades are also skeptical of the value of the changes in a bushfire scenario, Captain of North Warrandyte CFA, Mick Keating, high- lighted the fact there is more to an evacuation plan than getting over the bridge.

“It doesn’t matter what they do at the bridge, the problem is with the roads on the other side of the river, the feeder roads are only single roads, you can’t get lots of cars out of the area because the roads just don’t handle it – build a freeway along Yarra Street and you’ll be able to get all the cars out – but Yarra Street isn’t going to take all the cars out of the area very quickly either, so again you go back to getting out early,” Mr Keating said.

Warrandyte CFA captain Adrian Mullens agrees the supporting roads won’t allow a faster egress.

“If you had road infrastructure either side of the bridge that would be capable of coping with the traffic, but you haven’t got it,” Mr Mullens.

Hope that the changes will ease the morning peak hour are also meeting scepticism; spokesperson of the Fix the Bottleneck Facebook group, Jennie Hill, sees it as only a partial solution, but needed for the immediate needs of North Warrandyte residents.

“For the people sitting in kilometres of traffic every morning trying to get their kids to school, I see the bridge widening and lights as a short term fix, and now we have to start working towards the long-term fix,” she said. And the long-term fix in many people’s eyes is the completion of the M80, however most concede even an optimistic timeframe for the Ring Road solution is at least a decade. WCA’s Dick Davies is hopeful VicRoads will return for more consultation and has offered to facilitate a community forum.
“Given that they are going to do something, what’s the best thing? You need to listen to the people who actually use the road, and of course everybody has got different views depending on where people live and what time they use the road, whether they are taking kids to school or going to work or what ever you know and if you listen to people you will find out what their views are,” Mr Davies said.

“It’s no good saying ‘it’s better to have the Ring Road’ – well it is better to have the Ring Road, but it’s not going to happen, not in the near future, so really we have got to try and work on the best design.”

Phase 1 of construction is due to begin in August with traffic lights being installed and a widening of the intersection of Kangaroo Ground and Research roads.