The power of Twitter saw Franklin MP Cassy O’Connor asking questions about the Tasman Bridge at the recent government budget estimates, revealing a budget of $14 million to improve pedestrian and cycling access over the coming three years.
The Department of State Growth has been working on options to improve cycling and walking safety on the bridge and believe that the planning work will be finished by the end of this year.
The information was revealed after Bicycle Network Tasmania had tweeted about an innovative cycling path that had been hung under a bridge in Luxembourg, which sparked a conversation about the strength of the Tasman Bridge to carry similar infrastructure.
Ms O’Connor got involved in the Twitter conversation and responded that she would pursue the matter at estimates. Following is the transcript of her exchange with the Minister and senior Department of State Growth representatives:
Ms O'CONNOR - We've had representation from cyclists and representative organisations about the dangerous conditions for cyclists on the Tasman Bridge. What kind of planning is in place, or resources being allocated, whether they be human and/or financial, to ensure that cyclists can cross the river safely?
Mr ROCKLIFF - That is a good question. Prior to my answering the question about the bridge, the new ferry service across the Derwent will also cater for cyclists, being able store and carry -
Ms O'CONNOR - But they will have to pay for that.
Mr ROCKLIFF - I have mentioned that in the context of the question as well. On the bridge upgrades, Mr Gregory, would you like to talk about those?
Mr GREGORY - We are currently exploring a range of options to upgrade the shared paths on the bridge. They are quite narrow. They were originally designed as maintenance access ways. Over the last six months we've been working through different options.
It is quite a complex piece of work. The current footpaths are an addition to the Tasman Bridge, post‑1975. We need to look at how that connects and what is the best way to operate those paths to make them wider and improve safety generally, and improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and all users of the bridge between the walkways and the road surface, and also the walkway off the side of the bridge. We are looking at all of that, working through a range of options and then we will use that to inform advice to the minister and the Government.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks, Mr Gregory. The conversations that the Greens have been having with Government relating to the Tasman Bridge infrastructure and potential upgrades date back to 2015. We keep hearing the same sort of language: that it is under investigation, that you are exploring options. The bridge remains unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, but it doesn't sound like there is a tangible plan there to upgrade that infrastructure and make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians and safer more broadly.
Mr ROCKLIFF - I refer you to Mr Gregory's previous answer.
Ms O'CONNOR - The question then is: what is the time frame?
Mr GREGORY - We would expect the initial planning piece of work to provide the options and I think there will need to be several options. We are not talking about a simple, low‑cost project. It is going to be quite a significant project. I expect that we would see that by the end of this year to inform Government thought and budget processes.
We have engaged consulting engineers to look at all the structural elements, and that commission includes an urban designer to look at fitting something to the bridge that complements the bridge structure rather than look like a maintenance walkway. That piece of work is moving along quite well. It has been quite complex because there are a lot of services that hang off the bottom of the footpath. There is telecommunications, there is water, and we have to work within the connection constraints of the bridge and a whole range of issues. When we change the structure, we will change the wind loading. It is quite a complex piece of engineering work.
Another complex piece of the thinking is, once we have decided what it looks like and how it goes together, is how you actually implement it, given that you have services hanging off the existing structure. That's the complexity, and that is all the piece of work we are working through. We have some ideas what it looks like - the width and the aesthetic of it, but now it's the logistics of how you bring it together and what it costs to do that.
Ms O'CONNOR - What is the forward planning for the bridge infrastructure given that it is ageing infrastructure that is very difficult to adapt to modern transport solutions. Are we likely to see any change to that infrastructure in this term of the parliament? You have $1.6 billion going into roads and it does not look like enough, if any, going into the Tasman Bridge infrastructure, which is just dangerous on multiple levels, minister, as you know, if you are not in a car.
Mr ROCKLIFF - I am advised that funding has been allocated for this year and the following three years with respect to the Tasman Bridge.
Ms O'CONNOR - What for? Mr Swain looks like he would like to answer.
Mr SWAIN - In the Tasman corridor planning broadly, we are very conscious of the need to enable passenger transport coming out of Sorell. On the issue of cyclists, we are also conscious that the connections through from the western and eastern shores are inadequate at the moment. There is always complexity with anything to do with the bridge because it can also relate to suicides, so we are very careful about what is being said about that project and when.
Ms O'CONNOR - I appreciate your caution. It is an ongoing discussion that we've been having, but my particular question related to planning for future cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. It is concerning that it seems to still be taking a very long time and there is no funding allocated to that upgrade work.
Mr SWAIN - As the minister said, there is significant funding across the forward Estimates for bridge works.
Ms O'CONNOR - Not related to pedestrian and cycling access.
Mr SWAIN - Actually, there is; the Greater Hobart Traffic Vision includes $14 million towards these activities.
Ms O'CONNOR - It's $14 million dedicated solely to the Tasman Bridge?
Mr SWAIN - Yes, to that specific issue.
Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you.