• Tony Bosworth

Broken Upper Colo bridge - local families struggling, resident has to use NDIS funds for road repair

When the March floods swept a large part of the much-loved wooden Upper Colo bridge away it set in train events which have seen some locals trapped in their homes, school children getting up at 4am and the son of a terminally ill man pay out of his NDIS funds for road repairs.

The situation in the region saw 30 residents get together at a meeting on Friday, which a Hawkesbury Council representative also attended, to try and get some movement on a bridge repair.

Meeting organiser Alice Voigt told the Post, “some families are cut off from neighbours, school, work and services. But the issue runs so much deeper than this.

“The inability to cross Colo River at the low-level bridge has seen a huge increase in traffic along Colo Heights Road which has now become so dangerous that it takes over 30 minutes to travel the short distance to Colo Heights.

“Residents without 4WDs are locked into their homes with no way out.

"Council’s slow reaction to repeated requests to grade the road have so far gone unanswered,” Ms Voigt said.

The meeting heard there were several major problems because of the bridge being down.

• The bridge is the escape route for Colo Heights, Crab Tree Gully Rd and Hulberts Rd residents

• The Captain of Upper Colo RFS can no longer accept call outs to Colo Heights or anywhere north of the river due to the time it takes to get there

• St Joseph’s College are unable to utilise activities on the north side of the river due to the response time in case of accident

• Residents have each covered an additional minimum of 37,000km in the six weeks doing detours since the bridge has been broken

• Colo Heights Road is in desperate need of repair and residents have uploaded

weekly submissions to council for grading

• Resident have been taking out council bins located on the North side of the river near bridge as garbage collection is no longer available

• Some residents are unable to get out using Colo Heights Rd because of the condition of the road, whilst others continually have cars in need of repairs

• Other residents are grading (and in one case using their NDIS funds to pay for grading) of Crab Tree Gully Road as Council has not responded to requests for regrading

“The last few years have been crippling on this hard working community who have faced months of bushfires, two significant floods, COVID ,and now a significant infrastructure failure,” Ms Voigt said.

One story of hardship revealed by Ms Voigt, revolving around the ruined bridge, is a resident who has lived in the valley for a decade and is an active community member, RFS volunteer, and sole carer for his terminally ill father with whom he lives.

The family home was inundated in the 2020 flood and again in the 2021 flood.

A landside along Crab Tree Gully Road during the March floods meant the family were cut off from civilisation for well over a week.

Issues with poor Telstra service, spotty mobile reception and internet outages have seen the family cut off from the outside world on several occasions, says Ms Voigt.

Six hours a day of NDIS funding has been reduced to one hour a day because few support workers are willing to travel up to three hours each day, which they are having to do as a work around route because of the downed bridge.

But worse than that, Ms Voigt says the resident, “has had to use a significant amount of his NDIS funding to employ someone to fix the gazetted road which council has not gotten around to, just to ensure services can get into his property as the main route via the low level bridge is no longer an option”.

Ms Voigt says another family north of the river has children who go to school in Richmond and because of the broken bridge, “their day starts 60 minutes earlier than the 5am usual start and adds an additional 150km onto their journey each day”.

“This additional 37,240km has put such a strain on this family that one or more of their vehicles in now at the repair shop on any given day,” Ms Voigt says.

“Business for this family has also been severely impacted due to the broken bridge as their heavy machinery takes much longer to get up Colo Heights Road onto Putty Road and onto Upper Colo Road where a significant amount of the work post-flood is. Spending 90 minutes to travel from the north side to the south side of the river is financially ruining this family.”

And then there are the cattle farmers, who are also struggling, says Ms Voigt.

“Generations of cattle farmers live in this valley and utilise their properties on both sides of the river to graze their cows,” says Ms Voigt.

“These cattle are now reducing in value each day as they pass their expiry date as they can not get off to market.

“And just three weeks ago CareFlight had to land their chopper to evacuate a young girl due to the low-level bridge being unpassable.

"Response time for emergency vehicles has now tripled on the north side of the river,” Ms Voigt says.

“Whilst residents and Council have varying ideas about the long term solution moving forward, one thing we can all agree on is that a temporary solution is critical and needed now. Can the army be utilised for remedial measures?”

Apparently not, according to the Council representative at the meeting who said the Council has asked the ADF but were told “it is not viable.”

Hawkesbury Council aims to replace all wooden bridges in the Hawkesbury with cement bridges as part of what’s called the Timber Replacement Project (TRP).

A design for a new cement bridge to replace the broken bridge – the total cost of which is likely to be around $2.5m – will be completed by the end of July.

Work would not begin until 2022 and is expected to take three months and will likely be a single lane bridge with space for pedestrians to also cross.

The Council has applied for State Disaster Relief funding for the project but have no idea how long it will take for that funding – if granted – to become available, Council's representative told the meeting.

Meanwhile, Council staff and contractors are carrying out geo-tech testing and radar scanning which will continue over the next few weeks.

The Friday meeting heard that a new bridge could be erected sooner if it was similar wooden design to the damaged bridge.

TRS (Timber Restoration Services) who previously fixed and repaired the bridge

have been contacted by residents and would like an opportunity to design a replacement wooden bridge which may be a mixture of steel and wood.

That bridge could be in place by this October, thanks to TRS being able to pre-build the bridge and then deliver it. The Council representative agreed to explore this as an option.

The current damaged bridge – which holds many memories for long-term locals, and apparently ticks seven out of eight heritage boxes – could live on in part with suggestions to use some of the wood for the benefit of the community, potentially as park benches and tables. This will be explored, and the large piece of removed timber bridge will be kept in storage until a decision is made in consultation with the community.

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