The NSW Coalition has promised an extra $500m to help fix country bridges rated as "poor" to help farmers go about their business.
The big new fund announced exclusively by Deputy Premier John Barilaro to The Land, though may pose more headaches as many old bridges have been reclassified for tonnages, and only concrete bridges would remove transport and freight issues for farmers.
For instance in the Dungog Shire, an old timber bridge took semi-trailers of cattle until it was re-rated as only taking 20 tonne loads about two years ago. This is believed to have cost producers in the Allyn River Valley hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income in the last year. The Wheelabout bridge has since been replaced, much to the delight of beef, egg and dairy producers in the valley. But that took a year.
Mr Barilaro said the new bridges fund would "repair and replace NSW’s historic timber bridges".
“Many of NSW’s charming timber bridges are now classified as ‘state significant’ but their ongoing maintenance can be expensive, maintaining over 1800 deteriorating bridges across the state is one of the largest ongoing costs for regional councils," he said.
Minister for Roads and Freight Melinda Pavey said councils will be asked to nominate bridges that are currently rated in poor condition to be included in the fund. “Our commitment will help ensure regional and rural communities maintain access to towns, jobs, schools and hospital facilities, as well as fast track increased community connectivity, freight access, motorist safety and resilience during flooding events,” she said.
Dungog mayor Tracy Norman said she was delighted the government was spending more money on bridges and this would make a big difference in her shire. She knew of one producer forced to drive an extra 60 kilometres because of poor bridges to get his equipment and feed into his farm. She said the government had helped replace about five bridges in the last two years "but that means we still have 28 to go," she said.
Allyn Valley beef producer Rod Kater, Bonnington, said until the Wheelabout bridge was replaced, life running a farm was hell, with a reduced tonnage limits on the old bridge virtually isolating many properties, forcing him to sell more than 100 steers, and exacerbated by the drought from early 2018. "We couldn't even get feed in for our stock. Someone had to use a tractor to take the bales over one by one. This program is really 50 years too late. In one shire north I know of at least 50 timber bridges that need replacing."
The NSW government half-funded four new bridges in Dungog shire, but locals say this is "unfair" as Dungog has lost much of its rate base.