A tight squeeze across the Romiaka Channel Bridge at Palmers Island. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner
A tight squeeze across the Romiaka Channel Bridge at Palmers Island. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner Debrah Novak

Palmers Island residents claim bridge traffic a danger zone

LOWER Clarence residents have slammed the bridge over Romiaka Channel as an accident waiting to happen, declaring it in desperate need of an upgrade.

Measuring 6.1m (20 feet) from kerb to kerb and 6.5m overall, the bridge was built in the 1930s when Yamba was home to just a few hundred people and the horse and buggy still mixed it with automobiles.

"It's the weakest link in our road connection now," long-time Yamba resident Cate Capp said.

"There is strong potential for a serious accident that could also isolate us as badly as any flood.

"Everyone in this valley gets cut off during flooding, but then there's extra government funding and other provisions to keep services flowing.

"If that bridge stops traffic on a normal day there is no financial aid and everything just grinds to a halt until the bridge can reopen."

Ms Capp said the Romiaka Channel bridge was only just wide enough for two cars to pass but heavy vehicles, including growing numbers of increasingly large motorhomes, caravans and trailer boats, raised the potential for a serious accident that could also paralyse Yamba.

She said the blind crest in the bridge also made dealing with oncoming vehicles difficult.

Clarence Valley Council staff said that because of the antiquated and unusual design of the bridge, widening it would be no easy matter and would call for specialist engineering.

A $44,000 block grant for the Romiaka Channel bridge widening appeared in the 2012/13 Clarence Valley Council Operational Plan but its absence in the 2013/14 plan appears to have been just an oversight.

"The council still has the funding to engage a consultant," a spokesman said.

"It's still on the council's to-do list and we'll try to get a brief out to a consultant in the New Year."

The spokesman said Council's focus remained on dealing with the effects of the January record flood on its 380km of regional roads.

Former Maclean Shire and Clarence Valley mayor Ian Tiley said that with a state election only 16 months away, now was the time to get a commitment from both sides of politics to make the bridge a bipartisan priority project.

"Representations to have the bridge widened had the total support of councillors two years ago and it's high time the question was asked what representations have been made to the state government," Dr Tiley said.

"It's on a road funded by the state and the bridge requires state funding.

"The council needs to get it to the top of a state priority list and should be making representations, talking to (Roads Minister) Duncan Gay now, or these things will drag on."

"It's just too narrow for modern-day transportation."

Dr Tiley echoed Ms Capp's fears of the potential for disaster if a serious accident blocked the bridge.

"If you happen to have a disaster while the bridge is blocked, it would be compounded," he said.

"It is the vital road link for all medical emergencies."

Former Maclean Shire councillor and regional tourism manager Bill Day crosses the bridge on his daily commute.

"I'm particularly aware of the dangers concerning the increasing numbers of cyclists on the bridge," he said.

"Other vehicles are required to give them safe clearance but sometimes we need to take evasive action in the process.

"Trucks have also greatly grown in size and when two large vehicles pass in opposite directions, their side mirrors just about touch.

"And of course the unthinkable scenario would involve a school bus."

Safety assessment needed

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said if the council considered the bridgeworks a high priority, he would too.

"It hasn't struck the same urgency in my 30 years as a Maclean resident as replacing the Oyster Channel bridge did, but I was happy to raise the Romiaka bridge issue with the council recently on Cate Capp's behalf," he said.

"If the council deems it a high priority I'd certainly go in to bat for securing funding from the state.

"It needs an official assessment of its danger level and if it complies, we'll definitely need to widen it. When safety is an issue, that can't be ignored."

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