IAN KER is a retired transport planner and former local government councillor who leads the Bridge Integrity Group (https://www.facebook.com/BridgeIntegrityGroupFremantle). LISA BARNES and GINA BLAKEMORE provide the leadership and energy for the ‘Save Our Shore Fremantle’ group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1113433372712441)
RE-mem-mem Re-mem-mem-mem-ber Then …
Apologies to those too young to remember 1962 (Remember Then, by The Earls), but most of this story will be within readers’ memories.
It is story about replacing a 60-year-old bridge across the Swan River in Fremantle, but unlike the straight bridge it is full of twists and turns.
It is a story in which, at every stage, the Fremantle community has had to fight for what it believed in – one in which the clear impression is that we are expected to forget, at every stage, what has gone before.
Main Roads, at the behest of then-minister Alannah MacTiernan, took six options for replacing the Fremantle Traffic Bridge to the community. The Fremantle Community overwhelmingly rejected all of them and developed its own option.
Then, nothing happened, as the ALP government was defeated at the 2008 election and the funding for the bridge disappeared into a budget black hole.
WA transport minister Rita Saffioti and federal Fremantle MP Josh Wilson announced a project to build a new traffic bridge BETWEEN the existing traffic bridge and the railway bridge. This was the community-generated option from 2006/7 which had been adopted by the City of Fremantle in 2015.
Re-mem-mem Re-mem-ber 2020?
Did Main Roads forget or simply ignore what the Fremantle community had clearly said back in 2006/7 – not to mention what the minister had announced in 2019? Whichever it was, they somehow came up with a proposal for a new bridge to the east of the existing one – clearly rejected back in 2006/7.
To be fair, they did present some well-researched and beautifully-presented history of Swan River crossings in Fremantle – but nothing to justify their favoured option as better than others.
Once again, it was up to the Freo community to bring about meaningful consultation, with two half-day workshops and several public forums resulting in agreement on a new traffic bridge being between existing road and rail bridges, with the addition of a second rail bridge in the same space. The new road bridge would be a ‘like-for-like’ replacement with no changes to the surrounding road system.
However, the new rail bridge has never been justified in the context of the container terminal moving to the Outer Harbour in 2035. Building 100-year infrastructure for just 10 years of productive use hardly sounds like good use of taxpayer funds.
Re-mem-mem Re-mem-mem-ber 2021?
After further community consultation, the WA Minister for Transport CONFIRMED the outcomes of the 2020 workshops, including retaining a portion of the existing bridge.
Re-mem-mem Re-mem-mem-mem-ber 2022?
After 12 months of silence, councils and communities were blindsided by a previously undiscussed proposal that would divert Canning Highway down to the river foreshore and sever Beach Street. This would:
Destroy much of the green space and mature vegetation on the river foreshore; and,
Make it impossible to retain any part of the existing bridge in any form.
Fremantle and East Fremantle communities said that this was completely unacceptable. East Fremantle council fully supported its electors. Fremantle Council “acknowledged” its electors’ concerns and a range of outstanding issues but has received no responses from Main Roads or the Bridge Alliance.
What’s Next To Remember?
Now, after a further five months of deathly silence, despite unequivocal community rejection of the Canning Highway proposal, we ask what Main Roads will present us with in the coming weeks.
There are rumours aplenty – many of them based the unhappy experiences of the past few years.
Rather than simply react to yet another proposal that is the antithesis of what the community has consistently said it wants, we are getting on the front foot. No grand engineering drawings or glossy ‘artist impressions’, just a simple outline of what we were promised in August 2021:
Like-for-like replacement with no changes to the existing road system;
Nothing to the east of the existing traffic bridge;
Retention of at least a portion of the existing bridge; and,
If a new rail bridge must be built, but a dual-track rail bridge cannot be accommodated, a single-track bridge (as-rated second in Main Roads own on-line survey), with passenger services being split between this and the existing rail bridge.
Anything else will be yet another betrayal of the Fremantle/East Fremantle communities that have been entirely consistent in their strongly-held views for the best part of two decades.