BEST OF 2022: It's time to talk about the Gobba Bridge traffic

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Cars on road

A white BMW skirts around stationary cars on Boorooma Street to push into traffic on the Olympic Highway, to a chorus of car horns. Photo: Supplied.

Year in Review: Region Riverina is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2022. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2022. Today, Chris Roe argues it’s time for action on Gobba Bridge.

After weathering a third wave of flooding in three months, the vast amounts of water remaining on the ground to Wagga’s North have highlighted one of the city’s major infrastructure issues.

The Gobbagombalin Bridge.

While residents on the hill at Estella have been enjoying ”lake” views for the past month, the closure of alternative routes into the city is creating heavy traffic during peak times.

It is leading to frustration among commuters and poses genuine safety concerns for emergency vehicles navigating limited access in and out of the growing northern suburbs of Gobbagombalin, Estella, Boorooma and the Bomen industrial precinct.

The main area of morning congestion is the northern intersection where Boorooma Street merges into the Olympic Highway and further along as commuters attempt to turn right from Old Narrandera Road towards the bridge.

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Wagga drivers are less familiar with the rules of merging in heavy traffic, such as the ”zipper” or one-for-one techniques that are daily manoeuvres for their long-suffering city cousins.

Tensions have boiled over as drivers either hesitate at the junctions or refuse to allow cars in ahead of them, and some drivers are taking matters into their own hands, overtaking stationary cars to the left on the verges of the Boorooma street ramp and forcing their way into traffic on the highway.

The white BMW pictured above was one such vehicle, whose bullish behaviour triggered much honking and succeeded in advancing him only several metres ahead in the slow-moving queue.

When it comes to safety concerns, there is a serious issue to be addressed around emergency vehicle access.

Last month, when Region investigated the potential challenges for first responders presented by the proposed Inland Rail route through Wagga, the surprise response from both fire and ambulance drivers was that rail crossings were less of a problem than the bridge.

cars on Gobbagombalin Bridge

Traffic on the Gobba Bridge is expected to double over the next decade. Photo: C4W.

Built in 1997, the Gobba Bridge is a fantastic facility, but its narrow two lanes along a 1.2 km stretch between Old Narrandera Road and Travers Street allow little latitude for first responders.

Once on the bridge, there is no room for emergency vehicles to overtake, and drivers told us that they routinely take alternative routes during peak times.

When the State Government unveiled its roadmap for transport in Wagga in August, pressure from local advocates forced the inclusion of an agreement to “investigate” the need for a second bridge.

While much was made of this inclusion at the time, the Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Sam Farraway was cautious in his comments regarding the “very expensive” proposal.

The finalised roadmap labels the Gobbagombalin Bridge duplication project as “for investigation” and reiterates the Government’s original position that the bridge would not be “recommended in the short to medium term”.

READ ALSO Gobbagombalin Bridge duplication and southern bypass are cautiously ‘on the agenda’ for Wagga

Instead, it favours upgrades to the Olympic Highway on either side of the bridge and opening up alternative routes to direct more traffic through North Wagga and across the Wiradjuri Bridge.

“While duplication of Gobbagombalin Bridge is not being considered as part of this work, the proposed intersection upgrades will improve safety, access and traffic efficiency for this increasingly busy area,” the report reads.

But as the flooding has highlighted, there would need to be serious investment in raising some of these alternative routes to make them a viable option in times of flooding.

Committee 4 Wagga CEO Scott Sanbrook said the group had been advocating for the bridge duplication for some time and would be pushing the issue ahead of next year’s state election.

“With Wagga’s growing population, particularly to the north, the bridge no longer has the capacity to service the city and its surrounds,” he said.

“This is particularly a concern for emergency vehicles, which can be caught up in traffic issues, costing precious time in critical situations.”

IN 2017, C4W backed Wagga City Council’s Integrated Transport Strategy and Implementation Plan 2040, which included “assessing the infrastructure requirements needed to meet the future needs of the Northern growth area” and negotiating “for duplication of the Gobbagombalin Bridge”.

The report highlighted the population boom to more than 5000 in the northern suburbs and the prediction that traffic on the bridge would double from more than 26,000 trips in 2020 to almost 52,000 by 2030.

“The future of the Gobba Bridge has become Commitee 4 Wagga’s number-one priority in the lead-up to the state election,” Mr Stanbrook said.

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