Glebe Island Bridge a demolition too far for Leichhardt Mayor

By Julian Bajkowski

The Mayor of inner Sydney Leichhardt Council, Darcy Byrne has gone on the attack over a report commissioned by the state that has raised the option of demolishing the 110-year-old Glebe Island Bridge, describing the structure’s removal as an “economic disaster” that would cut off access to the CBD in the midst of substantial redevelopment.

Mr Byrne has accused the government of “cherry picking” data in the creation of the cost benefit analysis prepared by ACIL Allen Consulting and said that it was part of an “end game” to tear out the bridge that sits alongside the iconic Anzac Bridge that connects the inner west with the city.

Glebe Island Bridge, which is able to swing open and shut to allow through larger boats, had previously been one of Sydney’s best known bottlenecks until the completion opening of the Anzac Bridge in 1995.

However as Sydney Harbour has gradually evolved from a working port that caters to heavy container and freight vessels to one largely dominated by pleasure craft and passenger liners, the pressure has been on to permanently remove the Glebe Island Structure to allow larger vessels into Blackwattle Bay.

The ability of large passenger vessels to literally sail up to the doorstop of Sydney’s CBD has resulted in a surge in recent liner arrivals that has coincided with a major redevelopment of once industrialised parts of Sydney’s inner waterways.

The commencement of work on the highly controversial Barangaroo redevelopment and the imminent demolition of the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour have prompted the government to start shifting ships and a temporary convention centre to nearby White Bay, which sits cheek by jowl with the Glebe Island Bridge.

“The government is building hundreds of millions of dollars of economic infrastructure in White Bay,” Mr Byrne said.

“To demolish the [Glebe Island Bridge] and permanently cut this growing precinct off from the CBD, would be short sighted. Without pedestrian access the Glebe Island risks becoming an expo without exhibitions and a convention centre without conventions.”

Supporters of the bridges preservation want it restored and opened up again as a thoroughfare for pedestrians and bicycles that make the short commute from nearby suburbs like Rozelle, Glebe, Balmain and Annandale.

Although there is existing pedestrian and bike access over the Anzac Bridge, the mixed use path is on a steep gradient and becoming increasingly crowded. A key safety issue with both the gradient and the mix of non-car traffic is that bikes easily accelerate to downhill speeds of more than 40 km/h in an effort to build momentum for the long climb to the bridge’s apex.

Conversely, the run-up to the flat Glebe Island Bridge is far less steep because it’s clearance, when closed, is much closer to sea level.

Leichhardt Council is also vehemently disputing the accuracy of the state government’s data on cyclist and pedestrian traffic volumes.

“Some of the information is even demonstrably wrong – a reference to 330 pedestrians and cyclists using ANZAC bridge is contradicted by Leichhardt Council counts between 2010 and 2013 showing an increase of 53 per cent to 843 users,” Mr Byrne said.

“Council analysis of the report shows that the data used comes from a wide variety of sources – some as old as 20 years, some estimated by the consultants with no supporting detail.

“It deliberately ignores future development within the Bays Precinct and the benefits that a pedestrian and cycling link could add,” Mr Byrne said.

Reports suggest that the cost of either restoring the Glebe Island Bridge or junking it have been estimated to be around that same at $37 million.

Leichhardt’s Mayor believes that the bridge’s longer time viability could be underwritten by offsetting maintenance costs through a charge imposed on vessels that carry passengers likely to use the structure.

“The ongoing maintenance of the bridge could be funded through a modest levy on big ships travelling into White Bay,” Mr Byrne said.

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