Barges will be used to replace the flood-damaged Fitzroy River Bridge

News, Kimberley, Disaster and Emergency, Natural Disasters, Politics, Regional Politics, Regional WA, State Politics, The Kimberley Echo, WA News

Barges will be used to ferry vehicles and goods across the Fitzroy River while Main Roads works to replace the bridge destroyed in the recent once-in-a-century flood.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti announced the State Government’s plans to reconnect the Great Northern Highway during a visit to Fitzroy Crossing on Monday.

The barge system will at first be operated by tugs before being replaced by a cable operation, while Portable pontoons to be used when river levels get too low to keep the barge operating.

The barge system will be operated while Main Roads constructs a low-level crossing at a location yet to be announced, with work on the low-level crossing is expected to take about four months.

The low-level crossing could be used for up to two years while a higher and longer Fitzroy River Bridge is built to replace the old structure which has been deemed unable to be salvaged.

Ms Saffioti said this will be the first time a barge system like this has been operated in this part of the state,

“So the final configuration and operation will depend largely on the conditions on the ground,” she said.

“Assessments of the existing bridge have been completed and Main Roads has determined that given the significant damage, a full rebuild is the only feasible option.

“Importantly, we will be looking to work closely with traditional owner groups on key cultural heritage issues and to ensure that out of this emergency, we are creating employment and training opportunities for the local Indigenous communities.”

Main Roads will work with transport operators on how the barge system will operate so they can bring freight into the East Kimberley which has been cut off from the rest of the State via road.

The barges will have the capacity to ferry single trailer trucks across the river.

Freight is currently being transported from Perth through South Australia to the Northern Territory and into Kununurra, an extra 2000km one-way.

The massive detour has meant freight costs have doubled, if not tripled for East Kimberley businesses and producers.

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The new Fitzroy River bridge will be higher and longer than the old one and will be dual-lane.

Kimberley MLA Divina D’Anna said the bridge was a long-term project and there needed to be interim solutions in the meantime.

“The combination of barges and the construction of a low-level crossing means we can adapt to the variable conditions we experience in the Kimberley across the year, including changes to the river level,” she said.

“While this has been a devastating event for the Kimberley, there are opportunities for our community to benefit from the training and employment that will come with the rebuild effort, and I’ll be advocating strongly to relevant ministers within our Government to make sure that happens.”

At Willare, heavy machinery and a 40-person road reconstruction crew have begun work repairing 10km of highway washed away in the flood.

Temporary gravel roads will be prepared to reconnect the highway between Broome, Derby and Fitzroy Crossing. It is expected to be complete in four weeks.

Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny said it was great that Main Roads were creating a “work around,” to get goods into the East Kimberley, but businesses and transport companies still needed a freight subsidy to compensate for the huge cost of getting goods into the region now.

“It is good to see, they are getting a small barge up this week to start shuttling cars and light trucks across the river but we will need to see the details of what the proposed larger barge will be,” he said.

“It is still a month before the road is going to be prepared from Broome to Fitzroy anyway so we have a month to look through the details,”

“We need the freight subsidy now though because at the moment the community is paying and so are the transporters.”

– with AAP

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