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Vehicles can finally be barged over the Fitzroy River but only six a day

Sarah CrawfordThe Kimberley Echo
A vehicle being barged over the Fitzroy River.
Camera IconA vehicle being barged over the Fitzroy River. Credit: Supplied

Kimberley motorists and hopeful dry-season tourists have greeted the news that vehicles can now be barged across the Fitzroy River with disappointment and confusion.

Twelve weeks after the East Kimberley was cut off from the rest of the State when the Fitzroy River Bridge was destroyed in the January flood only six vehicles will be allowed on the barge each day.

Those vehicles will have to be for emergency and critical service providers or belong to displaced people. They will also need to weigh no more than 2.4 tonnes loaded.

Main Roads announced on their Facebook page that the barge would begin taking vehicles from Tuesday, March 21, prompting more than 150 questions and comments.

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Julie Crockford wrote: “6 per day. What a joke. Should be a floating bridge by now.”

While others questioned which vehicles would be light enough to cross.

“What 4wd weighs less than 2.4 tonnes???” Graeme Rutherford wrote, while Debbie Ashworth asked, “No Ram towing a caravan then????”

Merilee Owen asked why a military-style portable bridge had not been installed across the river for the only sealed road from Broome to Darwin.

“Where is our army in all of this? Why isn’t our military there with floating bridges (I assume we have them at our disposal for our army) 6 vehicles a day! Wow! On our No 1 highway!”

Mining and Pastoral Region MLC Neil Thomson said the Government’s response to the destruction of the Fitzroy River Bridge was ” pathetic”.

“We are now at three months and all we have is six vehicles per day, that is pathetic and the minister should be condemned on that.”

Mr Thomson questioned what happened to the initial discussion of creating interlocking barge platforms to create a temporary bridge.

“That has been conveniently forgotten. They have just kicked the can down the road and they are now hoping as the river goes down they will be able to get the river bed crossing in place and that will keep people quiet for a bit.

“But the next major rain event, next wet season will just wash away all that and they will be back to square one.”

Mr Thomson said he raised the idea of constructing a Bailey bridge weeks ago, however, Main Roads has rejected the idea.

In an answer to his question in Parliament the minister representing the Minister for Transport said; “. . . this was not considered a viable option due to the damage sustained to the existing bridge and piers; the additional extensive piling work required to make it safe and secure for use as a superstructure; and the requirement for a complete rebuild of the eastern bridge abutment and bridge approach roads.”

The barge had been operating for pedestrians only since March 14, however, tourists and residents who need to get vehicles from the East or West Kimberley have been waiting eagerly for news on when the barge would take cars.

The barge will only take roadworthy vehicles that are a maximum of 2m wide and 2.4 tonnes loaded. All vehicles will be weighed before being driven on to the barge and low-clearance cars won’t be capable of crossing the ramp on to the vessel.

A statement by Main Roads reads, “Main Roads is monitoring the river depths as levels are currently dropping with sand banks and hazards emerging.

“Main Roads and the barge operators will be working with the traditional owners to identify alternative landing sites to try and keep the ferry service operational until the low-level crossing can be constructed. If this is not possible, the helicopter transport across the river will be reinstated.”

People who want to book a vehicle for the barge service should call Shire of Derby West Kimberley between 8am and 4pm, on 9191 0999 and skip the menu by selecting option No.5.

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