Plea to restore bridge access

LONGTIME Parma Road resident David Phelps has encouraged Shoalhaven City Council staff to “think outside the square” when it comes to repairing the bridge over Parma Creek, which has been closed to traffic.

Access to Parma Road at Falls Creek from the Princes Highway has been cut following recent structural damage to the bridge, with council saying it may take at minimum of six weeks for repairs, depending on the supplying of materials needed.

Council had previously reduced both the speed and load limits on the bridge in an attempt to prolong its lifespan after it had suffered damage – it was even reduced to a single lane.

But it is believed more than one heavy vehicle used the road on the Monday of the recent long weekend, causing catastrophic failure in a key longitudinal timber beam.

Residents are now required to access Parma Road from the western end at Braidwood Road, in some case doubling the time it would take them to make the trip to Nowra or even longer if they were trying to head south to Jervis Bay.

Mr Phelps, who has lived on Parma Road for nearly 65 years, believes council could solve the problem easily in the interim, again allowing light traffic to cross the bridge.

“I’m no engineer, but I’ve got down under the bridge and had a look and as I understand it the major damage is to the split beam on the outside of the upstream side,” he said.

“I’m only a cow cockie but for a start, wouldn’t you try to strap or plate it to at least give it support?

“The bridge has already been reduced to one lane, allowing a walkway on the southern side, which is about two metres wide.

“Why not reduce that walkway to around a metre and move the roadway in two metres from the northern edge and that would still allow a single lane across the bridge that could be used by light traffic.

“There are two large beams in the centre of the bridge that could take the load.”

Another alternative Mr Phelps has suggested is a Bailey bridge, which is a type of portable, pre-fabricated, truss bridge, developed by the British during World War II for military use and currently used in emergencies by the RMS.

“A Bailey bridge could be placed on the southern side of the current bridge and used in the interim until the necessary repairs are carried out,” he said.

“I acknowledge that council has a duty of care but it’s not rocket science, let’s think outside the square.

“While it is estimated to be a minimum of six weeks I would say it will be a lot longer than that.”

Mr Phelps said there had been a huge increase in traffic using the road since work began on the Princes Highway upgrade at South Nowra.

“People try to whiz up our road or even Turpentine Road to try to avoid the traffic hold-ups at South Nowra,” he said.

“I heard one resident on the western end of the road say they estimated up to 2000 vehicles a day were using the road – RMS and the council combined to tar some of the western end of the road to alleviate the dust problems.”

At this stage the buses taking students to Falls Creek School are stopping on the eastern side of the bridge and dropping off the students who then walk the 800-odd metres to the school.

“The school has a lot of students who come from the southern area and they are brought to school by the parents and they also have to stop on the eastern side and walk them over,” Mr Phelps said.

“It appears this may take longer than we have been told – a bus stop and shelter has now been erected on the western side of the closed bridge.

“Last year it was advertised for design work or tendering for construction of a new bridge.

“This needs to happen sooner rather than later.

“It was mentioned for the 2014-15 estimates but I don’t think any funds have actually been allocated in the budget.”

Mr Phelps and his family have operated a farm tourism business on their property for nearly 20 years and while he admitted the closure of the road from the highway is affecting his business, it was the schoolchildren he was concerned about.

“They are the ones I worry about and the young mums who take their children to school and now have to take other siblings on the trek as well,” he said.

“My concern is also the possibility of a bushfire.

“We might be nice and green now after the recent rain but it would only take a few westerly winds and some hot temperatures for us to return to fire danger.

“If a fire was to come from the west I’m concerned we wouldn’t be able to get the kids out – they definitely wouldn’t be able to get up Parma Road as that’s where the fire would be coming from.”

CUT OFF: Parma Road resident David Phelps inspects the damage to the Parma Creek Bridge which has closed the road preventing access west from the Princes Highway.

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