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Swan River Crossings Updates and Video

We are providing regular updates on the progress of this project and what we believe the Sawn River Crossings should deliver to our community.

The Fremantle Traffic Bridge is set to be replaced under Main Roads’ Swan River Crossings Project. As a community, we are concerned about the location and design quality of this critical piece of infrastructure. We are updating this page progressively as the project develops.

DesignFreo is hosting a panel discussion on the evening of Monday 31 May – details and registration here!

UPDATE // 11 May 2021 / Alignment options presented for feedback

In response to community feedback, Main Roads has released 4 alignment options for the new Swan River Crossings traffic and rail bridges. Details on each of these options – pictured below – can be found on the Main Roads website here. An interactive tool allows you to visualise each option from different perspectives.

Main Roads is hosting a series of pop-up and online info sessions where you can ask questions and give feedback – see table below. The last is on May 22, so there is only a small window of opportunity to provide comment.

An online survey is open until June 1. We strongly encourage you to respond, as this is going to inform the decision-making.

The four alignment options are:

  1. Option 1 – between the bridges with 2 rail tracks
  2. Option 2 – between the bridges with 1 rail track track
  3. Option 3 – to the east with 2 rail tracks (as presented last year)
  4. Option 4 – where the current bridge is with 2 x rail tracks

The Main Roads presentation to the invited Community Forum, which DesignFreo attended on May 11, is here. It contains the most recent information on the status of the project and the alignment options.

What we know to date

Since our inaugural event ‘Old Bridge, New Bridge’ almost a year ago, DesignFreo has closely followed the evolution of the Swan River Crossings Project. Our bridge champion, Layla Saleeba, has attended all of Main Roads’ invited Community Forums on behalf of DesignFreo (thank you, Layla!) and her summary is posted below.

We are pleased that Main Roads has responded to the call for more options. We encourage you to have your say on this critical issue for our city and its future.

DesignFreo is seeking a good design solution that respects the river and its health and the Indigenous significance of the waterway and surrounding precinct. We want quality urban design that prioritises pedestrians and cyclists. Layla’s insights below are followed by the summary of our first event – a reminder of the outcomes we are seeking from this project.

We are hosting a follow-up event on Monday 31 May. We are finalising the venue – registration and event details will be uploaded asap!

Summary of the three Forums 

The replacement of the Fremantle Traffic Bridge is an extremely complex project that must reconcile technical, environmental, financial and social challenges.  

There are multiple competing interests. It is close to homes, local businesses and industry. There are State and Indigenous heritage considerations. The bridges have to integrate multiple modes of transport – cars, bikes, pedestrians, passenger trains, freight trains and boats – and (we hope) serve our community for the next 100 years. 

Here are some of the key questions which have been discussed at the three Forums.

What’s wrong with the existing Fremantle Traffic Bridge? 

After standing for over 80 years, the existing timber traffic bridge has greatly deteriorated. It has high maintenance costs, multiple marine navigation issues, doesn’t meet current design standards for road lanes and, as we can all attest, has a poor pedestrian / cycle pathway. 

Deterioration: There are many issues with the durability and structural capacity of the substructure and the superstructure. Due to deterioration, timber elements of the bridge have, over time, been replaced or strengthened with steel and concrete. Main Roads engineers suggest that ongoing maintenance will not extend the life of the deteriorating timber.  

Restoring the timber like-for-like will not meet current bridge design standards and durability requirements. Moreover, the jarrah needed for the piles is difficult to get and not environmentally sustainable. 

Maintenance Costs: Main Roads stated that in the last 5 years, $23M has been spent on specific works necessary to strengthen the bridge and $400K per year on routine maintenance. 

Navigation: The bridge has the lowest clearance and narrowest navigation spans of all the Swan River bridges up to the Causeway, which limits the size of vessels that can pass beneath it. Additionally, the piers under the rail and road bridges do not align with each other, making navigation difficult and significantly increasing the risk of vessel impact and possible damage. 

Pedestrian / PSP (Principal Shared Path): There is currently no PSP and the existing pedestrian path is in poor condition, too narrow and the balustrade is too low.  

To Main Roads credit, the explanations given around these issues (see here) have been extensive and detailed. After much discussion and hard questioning from Fremantle community members over multiple Forums, the majority of Forum participants have accepted the need for a new traffic bridge. 

Read more the condition of the bridge via the Main Roads Forum Summary here.

What will the new bridges look like and who is designing them? 

As yet no designs have been presented. All discussions and presentations to date have been purely around the alignment of the bridges. 

Contractors Laing O’Rourke Australia Construction, Arup Australia and WSP Australia were appointed in February to form Alliance with Main Roads to work on the final alignment and to design and construct the bridges. 

Main Roads has provided a timeline of the project stating that until June we are still in the ‘Alignment Options Assessment’ phase. ‘Design Development’ will begin in June, with ‘Detailed Design and Pre-Construction’ scheduled from September through to December.  

What we do know is that the new traffic bridge will be ‘like for like’ in that it will have 2 lanes in each direction, with the addition of a median strip, and will incorporate a PSP (Principal Shared Path) for walking and riding and a dedicated pedestrian-only path. It will also in some way incorporate Indigenous acknowledgment, Heritage Listing acknowledgment and urban landscaping. 

DesignFreo sees this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to design a bridge that demonstrates excellence in design, creates a sense of place and is a memorable gateway experience for road, rail, walking, cycling and boating.  

We seek a broader urban design outcome with increased connectivity to the foreshores and uninterrupted connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists.

Why a new rail bridge? 

The existing Fremantle Rail Bridge has two rail lines, one travelling south and one travelling north. These are currently shared by passenger and freight services. Passenger services take priority and hence freight is restricted from using the bridge during peak passenger times (6am-9am and 3pm-6.30pm), with a second priority being maintenance that occurs at night. 

The restriction limits capacity, yet the State Government has targeted 30% of containers to be handled by freight, to reduce freight vehicles on roads.  

To meet this need, the Swan River Crossings Project is incorporating a new passenger rail bridge. This will separate freight and passenger rail lines and accommodate increased future capacity for both. 

While a reduction in the number of freight trucks on the roads is welcomed in terms of noise, pollution and congestion (especially for those of us who live and travel around the port, Tydeman Road, Stirling Bridge and up to High St) there were questions around the need for a dedicated freight line given the impending move of the port to Kwinana. 

Main Roads, Westport and representatives of the port were adamant that the transition of the port to Kwinana is unlikely to happen until 2045. This being the case, existing rail capacity will be insufficient and the number of trucks on roads will greatly increase. 

DesignFreo’s stance on this = we need to all stop consuming so much and buy local! 

Read more on the rail line via the Main Roads Community Forum Summary here.

Is Aboriginal heritage being acknowledged? 

Main Roads has advised that they have engaged with Noongar Elders to understand the project area’s significant heritage and cultural context, including unique stories of place, so that these can be reflected and acknowledged in the design of the new crossings and landscape. 

At the Community Forum on 11 May, Aboriginal Elder Farley Garrett reiterated the importance of the sacred site and an interest in further acknowledging reconciliation and therefore both the European and Aboriginal heritage of the crossing.  

In Indigenous culture it is believed that the Waugal, or Rainbow Serpent, travels up and down the river and that the Waugal’s flow is impeded by the multiple pylons of the old timber bridge. As such, removing the existing bridge and ensuring that any new structures have minimal pylons is welcomed. 

DesignFreo believes that acknowledgement and interpretation is not just about an artistic gesture. It requires a deep recognition of the river as a living, spiritual thing that we should respect, repair and care for. The health of the river should be a primary design driver. 

How is the Heritage Listing of the Old Bridge being acknowledged? 

The bridge is on the State Heritage List and the State Register. We are told that Main Roads/ the Alliance is working closely with the Heritage Council of WA and have engaged a heritage consultant. 

In the original alignment presented by Main Roads in August last year, and in Alignment Options 1, 2 and 3 released this week, a remnant of approximately 19 m of the old bridge has been retained on the southern side to acknowledge its heritage significance.  

Interestingly, we were told at the Forum on May 11 that the Heritage Council deems a new bridge that follows the exact alignment of the existing bridge (ie Option 4) to be a more meaningful acknowledgment of heritage than leaving a remnant. 

Several ideas were floated at Forums. The jarrah from the old bridge could be used to create a fishing jetty or a sculpture in the precinct. Perhaps the Heritage-listed Ferry Capstan Base, a rare surviving example of the technology used to haul river vessels in the nineteenth century and currently hidden under vegetation, could be meaningfully presented? 

DesignFreo suggests that we can be much more creative in acknowledging the Heritage listing than retaining a remnant, or ’stump’ as we have nicknamed it! 

If a ’stump’ is to be retained, it should be part of an alignment option supporting further activation of N Worrall Park and the public space around East Street Jetty and opposite the Naval Store. Which then begs the question, who will be responsible for its activation and maintenance?  

How long will it take to build, and what will the disruption be? 

It goes without saying that there will be major disruption during construction regardless of the chosen alignment option.  

Certainly, in analysing the options, we need to be aware of the impact that the construction will have on the community. Not only in terms of traffic delays and detours, but the impact on local business, particularly in North Fremantle where business relies on passing traffic. 

Sadly, these businesses will be affected to some degree. We need to evaluate the options in terms of the length of disruption, and possible mitigations, during the construction phase. 

Options 1 & 2 see the existing traffic bridge reduced to one lane each way then closed entirely for a relatively short period, yet the construction of these options is more complex and longer, with an expected end date in late 2025. 

Options 3 & 4 are less complex, with construction ending in late 2024. 

Option 4 positions the new traffic bridge exactly in place of the old, requiring the old bridge to be demolished and closed completely. Not ideal for impact on traffic, but it does mean a shorter construction period.

Perhaps there are opportunities to mitigate the impact by specific marketing campaigns promoting North Fremantle as a destination; and equally dedicated campaigns for the city centre of Fremantle. Perhaps during construction, regardless of alignment, there is the opportunity to petition for a ferry service from Fremantle to Perth. Perhaps a barge for pedestrians from the northern foreshore to the southern? 

Lastly, something to note: 

Option 3 is the original option Main Roads presented last year, with the new traffic bridge to the east of the existing one. It is the option that sparked protest and the Better Bridges ‘Build West’ campaign. 

This eastern alignment increases the total footprint of the infrastructure, causing significant loss of green space and connectivity to the river on both the north and south sides. It takes the entry to Fremantle further east, with a rudimentary junction on the southern end butted up to the Naval Store (also Heritage listed). 

The eastern alignment also leaves the remnant of the existing bridge (‘the stump’) in between the traffic and the rail bridge, making access and meaningful activation difficult and begging the question, what will be its usability?  

‘I think design has the opportunity here to be a lot bolder and if anywhere can do it it should be Fremantle’

Russell Kingdom, DesignFreo Conversation 01, July 30

Below is the summary of the first conversation we had around this project in July last year, which set a framework for community expectations.

DesignFreo Conversation01 / 30 July, Tannock Hall

A big thank you to all who attended DesignFreo Conversation 01: Old Bridge / New Bridge, for what was a lively and insightful discussion. A great panel and engaged audience came together to explore the questions we need to be asking Main Roads to ensure we get a bridge that serves people and place as well as cars.

With numbers limited due to Covid restrictions, the event was sold out and many were disappointed. We’re pleased to provide here a full video for all to view. Please share!

Panel members and time codes:

  • Meri Fatin, facilitator – introduction (7:10)
  • Rebecca Clarkson, Community Development Expert and instigator of the change.org campaign to retain the old bridge as a public space (9:36)
  • Russell Kingdom, Urban Designer (Manager City Design and Projects, City of Fremantle) (14:09)
  • Brendan Moore, Aboriginal Engagement Officer, City of Fremantle (20:14)
  • The Honorable Simone McGurk MLA, Member for Fremantle (26.32)
  • Dr Anthony Duckworth, Research Fellow, Australian Urban Design Research Centre (38.30)
  • Panel discussion and audience Q&A (46.20)

A summary of Conversation 01

With no information available from Main Roads, the discussion on July 30 at Tannock Hall focused on exploring what would constitute a good design outcome. 

Our panel of experts shared their knowledge and perspectives, emphasising the critical role of community consultation as part of the design process. The conversation provided a framework for the questions that need to be asked now that consultation is open.

The common thread was the importance of a connected public realm that serves more than just cars. Recognising and respecting the significance of the Derbarl Yirragan (the Swan River) and Dwerda Weeardinup (Cantonment Hill) to the Whadjuk Noongar people should inform the design outcome.

Rebecca Clarkson provided a compelling argument for retaining the existing bridge as a public space, in a similar vein to New York’s acclaimed High Line. In a first for WA, the old bridge would become a green space for pedestrians and cyclists, allowing safe movement between north and south and a new way to enjoy the port and river. Rebecca’s campaign to retain the old bridge is on change.org here.

Russell Kingdom confirmed that retaining as much of the existing bridge as possible was the Council’s default position, however the complete lack of data from Main Roads made any assessment of the options impossible. Access to the foreshore needs to be improved as part of the project.

Brendan Moore relayed the significance of the Derbarl Yirragan and Dwerda Weeardinup as Aboriginal sites, recognising the historical distinction between Yellagonga’s north and Midgegooroo’s south. He  emphasised that the river is to be enjoyed and cared for, noting the belief that the pylons of the current bridge impede the flow of the Waugal.

Anthony Duckworth-Smith reiterated the importance of the public realm, suggesting that dignity and generosity towards people should be given precedence over vehicles. The existing conditions are hostile to pedestrians and cyclists – a holistic approach to the entire precinct is critical.

‘It doesn’t need to be something heroic – simply to make it incredibly well connected and a dignified experience might be enough, and say Freo more than anything’

Anthony Duckworth

Simone McGurk reiterated that the lack of information from Main Roads was inflaming community concern, making any specific discussion around the design impossible. She committed to doing whatever she can to ensure that the community’s voice is heard in the design of the new bridge.

We gratefully acknowledge the time and insights of all panellists and thank Meri Fatin for a great job in facilitating the conversation. Thanks to The School of Arts and Sciences at The University of Notre Dame for the video, and event partners the Fremantle School of Architecture and the Old Bridge Cellars.