It’s time to level with us about “zombie bridges”

It’s time to level with us about “zombie bridges”
Sean Car

The Port of Melbourne (PoM) has reiterated its desire for a low freight bridge in front of the Bolte Bridge connecting the port’s disparate parts, which local residents and businesses have long argued would kill the viability of Docklands.

It comes amid a $2 billion funding commitment in the federal budget for initial investment in a new Melbourne Intermodal Terminal, which PoM CEO Brendan Bourke said was a “positive” step in connecting Melbourne’s port to inland rail.

This was followed by the Victorian state budget, which didn’t provide an answer to the question that has long-plagued Yarra’s Edge residents as to whether the proposed tram bridge to Fishermans Bend would be constructed.

Previously described by Melbourne Passenger Boating Association president Jeff Gordon as “zombies” which “just keep coming back”, the freight and tram bridges together shape to significantly impact Docklands by blocking off boat access to the harbour.

Mr Bourke said that the federal government’s funding, together with a freight link connecting Webb and Swanson Docks which would see a six- to eight-metre-high bridge constructed adjacent to the Bolte Bridge, were “essential” in meeting the long terms needs of the PoM.

“Connection of Inland Rail to the port, including a direct freight connection to Webb Dock, is essential to meeting the long term demands of consumers and business,” Mr Bourke told Docklands News.

“PoM is also investing more than $125 million in the Port Rail Transformation Project in the Swanson Dock precinct to increase port rail capacity.”   

The PoM’s 2050 Port Development Strategy, released in October last year, also includes the development of a Webb Dock freight link, which it stated was “crucial to container trade” and that it would be working with the state government to deliver it by 2030.

“Projects like the Webb Dock North container terminal and Webb Dock freight link could take up to 13 years to develop and deliver. Work on these projects needs to commence now to ensure the required infrastructure is ready when needed to support the future trade demand,” the strategy states.

While the state government’s 2018 Fishermans Bend framework references a “potential future elevated freight route road/rail corridor”, Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan refused to confirm the government’s interest when asked last month.

But Docklands News understands that the Port of Melbourne has recently met with senior figures within state government and the City of Melbourne as it continues its efforts to get the freight link over the line.

The eight-metre-off-the-water bridge has been haunting Docklands almost from its inception when the Port of Melbourne lost the rail connection which used to travel up Lorimer St and Footscray Rd (now Harbour Esplanade).

The port has been advocating for the bridge to move freight between an expanding Webb Dock and its major railway connections on the Swanson/Appleton/Dynon side of its operation.

Public outcry from Docklanders successfully killed off the concept in 2012 when Coalition Minister for Ports Denis Napthine officially ruled it out.

The Premier of the day, Ted Baillieu, explained that the expansion at Webb Dock was an interim measure while the Port of Hastings was brought on stream. But the Andrews Labor Government has since scuttled the Hastings expansion plan and is proceeding with renewed energy at Webb Dock at the mouth of the Yarra River.

The low rail bridge concept first reappeared in the new Fishermans Bend Framework document, which was released by the state government in October 2017.

Yarra Resident Action Group chairman Keith Sutherland said it was time for the state government to level with the community about its intentions.

“We would like to know at what stage the planning of a low-level freight bridge adjoining Bolte Bridge is at. We believe there are ongoing discussions taking place and the disappointing feature of this is the secrecy elements with powerful interests involved,” he said.

Docklands Chamber of Commerce president Johanna Maxwell has long expressed her concerns regarding the freight bridge, saying the proposal would devastate Docklands by “closing off our magnificent waterway”.

Meanwhile the recent state budget, which included $15 million to “progress planning for longer term transport links” to Fishermans Bend, included nothing on the state government’s preferred route for a tram to the precinct. This was despite including $179.4 million to transform the former General Motors Holden site into an innovation hub, of which the University of Melbourne has already invested in for a new engineering and design campus.

While having spent $4.5 million during the past two years for a business case and “pre-construction works” on a tram route to the precinct, the state government has again failed to reveal whether it will pursue a tram bridge from Collins Landing to Yarra’s Edge.

With the tram route over the Yarra River already in the planning scheme, many within government believe the favoured route will remain in place. However, the state government maintained as recently as last year that all options were being explored.

A government spokesperson said part of the $15 million was for progressing planning and development of transport connection, as well as “more frequent bus services”.

“With an eye on the future, we’re investing under the Victorian State Budget 2021/22 to investigate how we can best serve this precinct and continue to progress our planning and development work. This is to ensure we can meet transport needs for decades to come,” the spokesperson said.

 “This budget also invests in more frequent bus services on routes 235 and 237 to improve access between Fishermans Bend and the CBD. Planning work to improve these routes will begin soon.”

Mr Sutherland has pleaded with Minister Allan and Minister for Planning Richard Wynne to meet with residents and end the uncertainty.

“No more secrecy, we deserve better,” he said.

“As a group we have not lost the passion or the desire for a sensible outcome but have backed off as the Andrews Government, which has had enough on its plate dealing with the problems of COVID-19 and the Metro development. But enough time has elapsed and the several thousand residents in Docklands and the Yarra’s Edge precinct deserve answers.”

“We have been promised dialogue, but we can’t even get a reply from relevant decision makers to emails.” 

“It shouldn’t be that hard when this ridiculous tram bridge has been on the drawing board for more than eight years, which also means uncertainty for residents and boat owners.” •

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