Narrow bridges

SA’s aging drainage bridges aren’t keeping up with the times, farmers say

Hawdon Lake farmer David Hurst says he “had no choice” but to remove the side rails of the aging bridge that spans the drain on his property.

The bridge is one of more than 2,000 crossings maintained by the South Eastern Water Conservation and Drainage Board (SEWCDB).

Mr Hurst has been working with the council to remove the sides of the level crossing on his property, near Robe, South East South Australia.

“The machine is just dragging over the bridge, or the tractor wheels are just dragging to the side of the bridge, and we just have to be careful driving them across,” he said.

Mr Hurst said it was not about him crossing the bridge himself, but that he was worried about his staff.

“It just puts another risk to the job,” he said.

“We have created more risks, but we have no choice.

“We have to get this machine to the other side, and this is the only way to do it.”

Mr Hurst says he is careful when driving machinery on the bridge as the wheels protrude from the sides.(Provided: David Hurst)

Livestock Tightrope

Mr Hurst said removing the rails allowed modern machinery to cross, it created problems moving his animals.

“We have to make sure that when we take stock of this bridge, we don’t force them,” he said.

“Just make sure they flow at their own pace, because if they rush, that sheep next to the sheep grows, and then they fall.

“It’s not going to kill them, but they fall in and then they have to swim sideways and then we have to pull them out – it’s just more workload.”

Mr Hurst said the bridges ‘have reached the end of their life’ but he must continue to use them.

“If we were to go around to find a connecting road, it would be almost 30 kilometers,” he said.

A large tractor in front of a narrow bridge.
Many bridges are too narrow for modern vehicles and tractors.(Provided: David Hurst)

$3 million per year for backlog

SEWCDB chair member Brett McLaren said the infrastructure was suitable for machines and vehicles of 50 years ago.

“Bridges and culverts were built many, many years ago and could never have predicted the amount of traffic we now have on crossings, and certainly not predicted B-doubles,” Ms. McLaren.

“Some bridges cannot be used because [the freight trucks are] overweight, and they have to take a detour, and that also has an impact on the transportation industry. »

Mr McLaren said the cost to “bring [some bridges] back to standard to bear the weight” reached up to $180,000.

“The system needs an increase of about $3 million a year just to catch up on some of our backlog,” he said.

Mr McLaren was seeking feedback from stakeholders who use the crossings as part of an investigation.

“We can uncover the needs and wants of our system users on what needs to be prioritized, what needs to be updated, and we can approach the government to help us get additional funding for our services, because we we are in desperate need of additional funding,” he said.

A body of water with vegetation, a concrete bridge spanning.
The drainage board says there is a “desperate need” for additional funding.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“Underfunded for decades”

SEWCDB partnered with Regional Development Australia Limestone Coast to conduct the survey.

Chairman Evan Flint said it would help “gather information to better understand the needs of the region around the drainage system.”

“The drainage system has been underfunded for decades,” he said.

Mr Flint said weight limitations on bridges meant going “the long way”.

“You’re going to look for a bridge that can take the wider and heavier transports…find a bridge somewhere that could be miles away.

“It’s just the inconvenience of trying to go about your daily business.

“Fire trucks need to be able to get in and out safely, and so it’s fair at all levels, all the people who have to go through these crossings.”

The Ministry of Environment and Water said the infrastructure assets have a replacement value of $260.5 million.

The state government has committed $2.595 million in the 2021/22 budget documents.

The department said the majority of the crossings were built in the 1950s and were “now reaching the end of their useful life”.

“Many structures will need to be upgraded to meet future transportation requirements with a demand for wider and heavier machinery,” he said in a statement.

“With the current limited budget, the capital funding program is generally targeted at upgrading or replacing structures that are in poor condition.

“Current funding does not cover the necessary maintenance of the drainage channel, bridges/passages, culverts and other water management assets to the standards expected by the community.”

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport has also been contacted for comment.