Crossing bridge too far for most

WOULD you like to head up the second Clarence River crossing project? The pay is probably pretty good, but before you answer, consider the following:

There have been 435 public postal submissions offering 28 new suggestions for a second Clarence River crossing (on top of the 13 “official” options).

A heavy vehicle traffic survey is due to be released next week and the methodology has come under some intense public criticism.

There will be 500 phone calls made to Clarence Valley residents in the next few weeks (most of them in the Grafton/South Grafton area) about the bridge issue.

Some $8.35 million will be spent on identifying a single option for a new Grafton bridge within the next year or so.

The options for a bridge have widened rather than narrowed since the latest process began in December 2009.

There has been significant staffing changes on the project, public outrage, public complacency and public bewilderment at the time and money spent so far on getting us to this point.

Now meet Bob Higgins.

He is the general manager of the Pacific Highway upgrade (from Newcastle to the Queensland border), has worked on that project for nine years and before that worked on the eight-lane motorway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane.

He was recently asked to be the project director of the second Clarence crossing.

He said “yes”.

“This is an important issue and we have to find a solution,” Mr Higgins said on Thursday after the first of two community consultations on the issue.

Just like the highway, Mr Higgins said it was important to establish and secure a route, get the EIS done, fine-tune the concept design and prepare for the construction phase.

Though a final option and construction seemed a lofty ambition at this point, Mr Higgins said it could and would be achieved, but he would not commit to any timeline because there were too many unknowns – particularly changes of government and budget issues.

“We won’t please everyone, but it’s all about compromise ... there are obviously a wide range of views,” he said.

Mr Higgins said it was very important to assess people’s residential address in relation to their views on the second crossing. This, he said, always has a major bearing on people’s perspective on the issue.

Project manager Chris Clark earlier provided the figures showing two thirds of the postal survey respondents (281) had identified themselves but 118 hadn’t.

Asked about the relevance of the touted Summerland Way/Mount Lindsay route to Bromelton (a possible heavy vehicle route to south-east Queensland), Mr Higgins said it certainly needed consideration in relation to the second Clarence crossing.

He referred to a 2006 study which examined a route from the Pacific Highway to the Summerland Way through Ewingsdale (near Byron Bay).

“We need to look at the validity of what is being discussed (about the inland route),” Mr Clark said.

It was part of the RTA’s charter, he said, to find a balance between community views and evidence about traffic flow, congestion, environmental factors (natural and residential) and so on.

“There are many different views but somehow or the other, ultimately the decision has to be made by someone.

“Today we are presenting what’s been presented to us,” Mr Clark said.

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