Salvos back bridge

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Salvos back bridge

Footbridge battle: Leongatha Salvation Army captain Martyn Scrimshaw (right) and vision-impaired resident Philip Neal want to see the town”s railway bridge restored.

COUNCIL and State Government had better take notice: the young, the aged, the frail and disabled are on the march in Leongatha to save the town’s footbridge.
South Gippsland shire council closed the main section of bridge that connected Bair St with the V/Line bus stop in early July, for public safety reasons.
Following an inspection by a team of engineers, VicTrack, which owns the infrastructure, recommended that the ramp section of the bridge should also be closed, effectively shutting down the entire bridge from public access from July 23 onwards.
It has raised enormous public concerns. Already, closure has resulted in a couple of bad falls on poorly paved roads where people are now forced to travel.
Leongatha’s Salvation Army captain Martyn Scrimshaw and his wife Heather saw an elderly man fall on the railway crossing at Roughead St when driving past. VicRoads is responsible for the crossing.
“We saw this older gentleman fall and went to see how he was. He had just come from Melbourne on the V/Line bus from hospital and had to walk up the gravel path and past the railway crossing, where he fell,” Capt Scrimshaw said.
He said as a member of the Salvation Army he was prepared to speak out on the bridge issue, which had affected the most vulnerable.
“We need to stand up for people with no voice. This is an issue of safety in our town. It concerns the safety of our children and of older people.
“People are walking along a road with lots of traffic. There is no footpath. There are potholes. We need to get the bridge back!”
Losing the bridge as a safe shortcut has put many people at risk and caused inconvenience among sections of the community that are highly vulnerable, especially school children, elderly people, people on walking frames, driving scooters and the visually impaired, such as Leongatha resident Philip Neal.
As a severely sight-impaired person, Mr Neal said walking along busy roads and paths that have large potholes is very dangerous. Especially the rough road from the bus stop to Edney’s corner is hazardous, because of the number of potholes.
“Those potholes are really dangerous. The bridge was a safe shortcut for people like me, but also for school children and older people, who want to shop in Bair St,” Mr Neal said.
“It was also the shortest route to the pedestrian crossing, which has traffic lights and is safe,” said Mr Neal, who also campaigned successfully to have the pedestrian lights installed in Bair St several years ago.
A former Leongatha resident, Dominic Maestrale rang The Star in support of keeping the bridge.
“I was in town three weeks ago and it (the bridge) is not such a safety hazard as council or the government make it out to be,” said Mr Maestrale, who grew up in Leongatha and now lives in Mt Eliza.
“Council is stirring things up. They are trying to frighten people, saying it’ll cost $600,000 to fix the bridge or build another one. This is not a safety issue. There’s no reason to close the bridge. There seems to be another agenda. For an outlay of $20,000, they could box the bridge in and make it safe to use.”
The present situation sounds remarkably familiar to similar circumstances more than a decade ago, when Mr Neal first campaigned to save the bridge from demolition.
In March 1996, it was also in disrepair and closed for safety reasons. Then Leongatha’s Lion’s Club president, Mr Neal fought hard to have the bridge refurbished.
Then as now, he believed the footbridge “is a major asset and should be reopened for the sake of school children, the aged and disabled”.
Already, South Gippsland Tourist Railway leased the railway complex and the bridge from the State Government and said then as now that it did not have the funds to repair the bridge.
After several months of campaigning, the government and council pledged $7500 to get repairs underway. The final restoration cost was $20,280, when the bridge reopened in September after it had been closed for nine months.
The bridge’s future looks bleak. It has been earmarked for demolition and nothing has been said about a replacement.
“The section of the bridge spanning the road is in a dangerous state and VicTrack and the council have agreed that in the interests of public safety, it must be demolished as quickly as possible. We are moving to demolish the section over the road in coming weeks. That section is a clear public risk,” VicTrack spokesman Mac Henshall said on Friday.
“We understand that the bridge provided access for the local community as well as bus passengers and we continue to work closely and constructively with council to determine the best way forward to provide access to the town. Since these involve engineering assessments, this takes time.”

Short URL: http://www.thestar.com.au/?p=67

Posted by Chris Brown on Sep 1 2009. Filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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