THE Fremantle Traffic Bridge risks being swept away by a flood of loosened regulations to be passed by the McGowan government “to help support Covi-19 economic recovery”.
Three years in the making, the proposed legislation before Parliament aims to “simplify the planning system” and “cut red tape”, while “ensur[ing] large and complex developments receive … streamlined assessment processes” expedited by a new Construction Panel.
Against this backdrop comes the news that in addition to the $115 million already set aside in the 2019-20 Federal Budget, Main Roads is now “fast-tracking the tendering process for a number of large-scale road projects”, which lists a budgeted $230 million for the Fremantle Traffic Bridge.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson fears a “dreary concrete bridge like so many others” will replace the spoiled spans, noting “Main Roads has a poor reputation with unsightly urban design, as any intersection in WA will attest”.
Mr Dowson believes Main Roads is poised to cite “cost and safety reasons … to demolish the current timber bridge.”
Current government budget and planning documents anticipate a “combined road and rail solution”, described as a “257 metre concrete road bridge with a track rail bridge”.
The bridge, completed in 1939 just as Fremantle became a key World War II port, is currently graded by the WA Heritage Council as a ‘Level 1A’ listing, which notes that Fremantle council itself “identified this place as being of exceptional cultural heritage significance in its own right”.
Veteran Fremantle Council Heritage Architect Agnieshka Kiera says the “strategic urban feature and gateway to Fremantle” must remain, and could be a “vital pedestrian
[and] cyclist link with Fremantle proper”, likening a repurposed bridge to the retained Brooklyn Bridge or Florence’s Ponte Vecchio.
Many in the community would love to see all or part of the historic frame retained, including Labor MP Josh Wilson who told the Herald it could host picnics, concerts and protests.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti let slip in a 2019 interview with 6PR radio that she didn’t think “we will be able to retain it all”, but hoped to keep a remnant at either end “possibly for fishing platforms”, while
“retaining some of the timber for pedestrian areas”.
Touted benefits of the
two-year replacement include creating around 1400 jobs and separating passenger and freight rails, potentially increasing productivity whilst taking more shipping containers off the roads.
The bridge was briefly closed in 2016 for repairs which cost around $20 million, and
it is estimated another $40-50 million would be required to keep the old bridge standing for potentially just a few more years.
by JUSTIN STAHL