Federal mother of three Joelle Baker is trying to work out how she is going to get her kids to school after Byron Shire Council abruptly announced last week that it is closing O’Meara’s Bridge on Binna Burra Road to heavy vehicles indefinitely from next week, including two school buses that use the route.
A leaflet sent to schools last week, but still not distributed to residents, says ‘A recent bridge engineering inspection has resulted in the load limit for O’Mearas Bridge on Binna Burra Road being reduced to 5 tonnes for all vehicles from Monday 24 August.’
The leaflet goes on to say that council will apply for funding to replace the bridge with a new concrete bridge and only if that application fails will it then make running repairs to the existing bridge.
The council estimates it will be the end of this year before it even knows the outcome of its grant application.
Work abruptly cancelled
What is confusing Ms Baker is why the council abruptly cancelled previous bridge-works, scheduled to happen during school holidays, only to several months later admit they were urgently needed.
Phil Lobban, operations manager, of Blanchs Buslines is equally bemused.
‘They had notification on the bridge last year of possible bridge closure while they were doing the works. Just before it was to happen they changed their minds and the bridge was left open. We just got informed last week on the change on the wait limit on the bridge,’ he told Echonetdaily.
Mr Lobban said that as a result of the changes, ‘We won’t be able to go the full length of Binna Burra Road. One bus will start at Binna Burra viaduct and the other will start from Waltons Road, so anybody from Federal or along Binna Burra Road will have to get their children to one or other of those points.’
He accepted it was a frustrating situation for parents who were used to having the bus come past their house but added, ‘We’ve just got to work with what we’re told. Some people will be disadvantaged – they will have to take their kids to where the buses depart from. But if there’s a problem with the bridge, and there’s a load limit put on it, there’s not much else we can do but work around it.’
Buses past the door
Joelle Baker told Echonetdaily she bought her property precisely because the buses went past the door.
‘I have three boys: two catch the Blanchs bus to Byron Bay High School and one catches the Bulzomi bus to Bangalow Public,’ she said.
The two buses leave at different times and she and her husband are working out how they are going to juggle the schedules.
‘Ironically he works for council and he’s having to tell them he has to wait with the kids, which will make him late for work.
‘Now the bridge is very dangerous and a safety issue. It was dangerous last year. They were supposed to repair it and did nothing about it. Why couldn’t they close it during the school holidays and fix it up ? They didn’t do anything about it,’ she added
Ms Baker is also annoyed at what she sees as lack of consultation with the local community about the closures.
‘No one was consulted. Council just tells you what to do. The school and the busline only received the information on Friday.
‘When I phoned council, their reaction was “we’ve spoken to the busline; the busline is organising an alternate route” and that’s it’.
‘But the bridge belongs the council, why aren’t they taking responsibility to contact and inform people?
‘I think a lot of people don’t know that it’s going to happen. I don’t know that the kids are passing the message. I’d like to contact all the parents who use the service to contact the council.
‘Council should start fixing the bridge – if they are going to close it then start fixing it, at least enough for the buses. They don’t have many kids on the bus when it goes over that bridge.’
Joelle is also rankled by the tone of the council’s communication, describing it as ‘like a threat: “if you guys don’t stop going there we’re going to close the bridge completely”.’
The council’s leaflet warns, ‘fines could apply to heavy vehicles that chose to ignore the signage,’ and adds ‘if council finds that heavy vehicles do not choose alternative routes, the bridge may need to be closed to all traffic.’
‘If it’s dangerous, that bridge should’ve been closed last year and fixed up,’ Ms Baker said. ‘It’s really frustrating the way council has dealt with it.’
Echonetdaily approached Byron Shire Council for comment but no response was received by publication.