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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 07-May-2009

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 13

Wordcount: 820

Whiff of mystery is hanging over Iron Cove


On an oystery rock at water’s edge, a cormorant dries its wings in the breeze, perfectly content until another arrives and squawking rivalry ensues. Just metres away, under a funny old rustbox bridge streaming with cars, no corpse hangs. Not a whiff of mystery, shame or guilt to mar the mid-morning serenity.

But don’t get too relaxed. Any moment now it’ll all be Juanita-deep under tonnes of the finest concrete. That’s if the august corpus of Roads and Traffic Authority engineers has its way, and having its way, as we know to our collective cost, is rather what the RTA does.

I’ve been rude about engineers before. Acknowledged. And they do, as a class, have their pathologies – blindness, crudeness, myopia to the point of solipsism. But architects too have their failings, and God knows I’ve been equally offensive in that direction.

At least with engineers, you can usually count on efficient practicality. You generally know they’ll get the job done, the contract written, the boxes ticked, albeit in a clunky sort of way. What you don’t expect is to have to bugle-up the architects’ cavalry. But listen.

Engineers love bridges. Can’t blame them for that. It’s a boy thing probably – all that projectile stuff. As well, there’s the look-at-mine aspect of bridges, the intimidatory advantage with which a good long span endows its projector.

Caesar, as in Julius, knew this. In 55BC he had his troops spend 10 days bridging the Rhine, only to cross the river, thump the collective Roman chest at the Germans, massacre a few woad-wearers, retrace his steps and carefully dismantle the very bridge he’d just constructed. Call it making a point.

The RTA engineers also love bridges, not least perhaps for the way they can cow the very populace they seem to serve. Their latest thing, in their late post-modern photocopy phase, is bridge duplication. Duplication offers the thrill of new-build when all that’s really required is a few alts and adds.

Having practised on the Alfords Point Bridge, Georges River, the RTA mob now wants to duplicate that duplication at Iron Cove.

The natives, however – the woad-wearers of Leichhardt and Canada Bay – are revolting. They noticed early on, as it’s hard not to, that the RTA duple-bridge proposal was ugly, messy, profligate, pollutive and slow. It would disturb riverbed toxins, chop up through heritage, overshadow Drummoyne pool, shrink lovely Brett Park, and spell probable curtains for Dobroyd Sailing Club.

One native, architect Michael Morrisey, sketched a quick alternative. Forget the second bridge. Forget the poisons and the piling and the digging and destruction. Forget the whole dopey duplicity – sorry, duplication.

Simply fix broad steel beams to the existing art deco piers, cantilevering both sides – and there’s your three new lanes (two bus, one car) plus pedestrian, cycle and maintenance ways.

This, with the help of some seriously bright engineers (including Arup’s Tristram Carfrae, of WaterCube fame, and Sydney Uni’s Professor Robert Wheen) was then developed into a serious alternative of such blinding simplicity it might be from Occam himself.

Largely prefabricated and with no new piling, it’s constructible, estimates Carfrae, in half the time and for two-thirds of the cost, saving $65 million.

But does the RTA give this so much as a sideways glance? Not at all. What it does is rebadge, reallocate and regurgitate for a quick approval. What was the Victoria Road Upgrade becomes the Inner West Busway project (public transport being ipso facto climate friendly). There’s a corresponding ministerial switch from Daley (Roads) to David Campbell (Transport). And, with barely a whisper of proper consultation, there it is, done and dusted, complete with the rubbery stamp of the Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally. Presto.

This, like the Firepower scam, leaves you rubbing your eyes. Why would they do that? Why knowingly ignore a cheaper, quicker, cleaner, prettier, more heritage-minded, more intelligent proposal for the dumb doppleganger? Could it relate to the 150-page contract signed back in 2007 by the RTA and Baulderstone Hornibrook (of the M5, Cross City Tunnel and Spit Bridge screw-ups) for, inter alia, the “duplication of Iron Cove bridge”?

But then (and here’s your Blackfriars mystery) why would they do that? Why would sane adults contract in 2007 to complete by June 2010 a “new four-lane structure” that was undesigned, uncosted, unpublished, unapproved and, it now seems obvious, ill-considered? Unless, that is, they had already decided that consultation (and for that matter cost-competition) was dispensible, and the natives were only there to be cowed?

Why would a state government expecting an enormous $2 billion deficit see fit to waste $65 million? These questions, and more, will no doubt spark court action. Watch this space. Meanwhile, remember the good friar, William of Occam: “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate.” Never allow two shags on a rock when one will do.


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