Katherine mayor calls for a second high-level bridge

Published on Friday, 13 January 2023 at 2:43:47 PM

Katherine's road bridge, the Eugene Betti bridge, on the Stuart Highway (left) and the old railway bridge (right). Photo: Che Chorley

With communities in Western Australia cut off in the latest record weather event, Katherine Town Council’s mayor is calling on the Territory Government to bring forward plans to build a second high-level bridge in Katherine.

“Unprecedented is heard too often these days and 15 years is too far away,” Mayor Lis Clark said. “We need to start planning for this now.”

A second high-level bridge is proposed as part of NTG’s plan for a heavy vehicle alternate route in Katherine, but it is marked for development in 10-15 years’ time in the NT Infrastructure Plan and Pipeline 2022.

“We’re looking for solutions that reflect climate change as we know it today,” Ms. Clark said. “If access to our current bridge is lost, all of the territory’s resources south of Katherine come to a standstill.”

Katherine Mayor Lis Clark. Photo: Shaana McNaught

The Northern Territory Government’s Big Rivers Regional Economic Growth Plan states that freight networks for agriculture, mining and other sectors are primarily by road and having one bridge is a risk for major projects. Trucks from the south bring exports to the Darwin port and essential supplies to the city. Defence currently has major development and activity at the territory’s largest RAAF base at Tindal, located south of Katherine.

Katherine does have a low-level bridge but this is only passable in the dry season and is limited to small 20 tonne trucks.

Over the last couple of weeks, ex-tropical Cyclone Ellie has caused intense rainfall in WA’s Kimberley region. The Fitzroy River Bridge at Fitzroy Crossing, on the Great Northern Highway, has been destroyed in a record flood. This has impacted the essential trucking route connecting WA and the NT and trucks must detour south, adding some 3,200 kilometres each way from Perth to Halls Creek.

While water is receding, it will take some time to fix the bridge and it has highlighted vulnerability in Australia’s road infrastructure when relying on one option.

Photo: The Katherine River rises in February 2021.

Katherine Town Council Councillor Denis Coburn says a backup bridge in Katherine, built to even higher standards than the current high-level bridge, would provide security for Katherine and Darwin. He points to at least two occasions last year when the Stuart Highway was cut off south of Katherine.

“Everything stopped,” Mr. Coburn said. “Darwin experienced delays and the grocery shelves went bare.”

“We want to fortify Katherine, and the territory, for the future with this important piece of infrastructure.”

Photo: Councillor Denis Coburn.

Photo: 2006 flood

Photo: 1998 flood

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