It’s amongst the most historic of timber bridges, with the longest such span of this design in the Southern Hemisphere. But don’t expect it to be preserved for posterity.
There are practicalities at play when it comes to replacing the Tabulam bridge over the mighty Clarence, a critical Bruxner Highway link, joining Nindigully north of Moree to the coast at Ballina. Common sense according to accounting currently outweighs any emotional desire to keep the old link with the past – even if it was a De Burgh truss design built in 1902.
“Who doesn’t have an opinion on the bridge,” said Tabulam district resident and Dexter producer, Vicki Stebbins who dressed in blue last Saturday for Tabulam’s innugural blueberry festival. Ms Stebbins refused to divulge her’s. “The bridge topic is so contentious,” she explained.
Lower Clarence resident, John Ibbotson, suggested saving the old bridge could do wonders for the local tourism industry, but purveyors of backpacker lodging insist the real future is in picking blueberries.
Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland said the need for concrete connectivity was priority over the desire to retain another historic memento. “Local councils need all the money we can get,” she said.
State and Federal Governments have convinced Kyogle and Tenterfield shire councils that $700,000 a year for maintenance and a $10m upgrade in the near future is a cost no one should bear.
“Both councils made the decision that they couldn’t afford the upkeep of the old bridge,” said State member for Lismore Thomas George.
Over the next two years a new dual lane concrete and steel structure will be built to accommodate B-Double traffic. At the moment single lane traffic must give way to whoever appears first, and in some weather it can be hard to see the other side of the 300m span.
Currently tenders are open until May 31 calling for a site engineer and contract manager.
Mr George said work on the $48 million bridge is expected to start in June to replace the existing timber structure. The project was first mooted in 2013, as part of the NSW government’s $145 million Bridges for the Bush program. Since then Federal funding has become available.
“The two professional service contracts are the next stage in delivering this vital piece of infrastructure, which will connect the Northern Rivers and Northern Tablelands,” Mr George said. “The existing bridge has transport limitations and will require significant maintenance costs, so it will be removed once the new structure opens to traffic.”
Delaney Civil has been awarded the contract to build the new bridge.