Bridging the state gap

An alternative route for Echuca Moama Bridge has been discussed for decades.

As one of the largest transport infrastructure projects in Northern Victoria, the $323.7 million Echuca Moama Bridge Project will provide a second link between rural NSW and Victoria, reducing congestion and improving reliability of emergency services. Most construction projects have one set of state-based building specifications to adhere to, but when working across borders, the lines can be blurred.

Each state in Australia has unique construction regulations and when the time came to create a new crossing between Victoria and NSW, construction teams were faced with two different standards.

As one of the busiest border crossings in the country it was identified in the 60’s that an alternative route was needed for the Echuca Moama Bridge, built in 1878 and now over 100 years old.

Now, each day 25,000 vehicles use the river crossing between Echuca in Victoria and Moama in NSW. With the main link between the two states reliant on a 100-year-old bridge, authorities decided it was time for an upgrade. The $323.7 million Echuca-Moama Bridge project was conceptualised to create a new, alternative crossing over the Murray and Campaspe Rivers.

Construction began in 2017 and the project has been split into four stages. Stage Three is managed by Major Road Projects Victoria and Stage Four by Transport for NSW.

Eric Shegog, Program Director Delivery and Continuous Improvement at Major Road Projects Victoria says communication has been key for a successful project that meets standards on both sides of the border.

“At one stage we were going to build the project with two different specifications, but we decided to go with one standard. You have to build trust in the team and get a good collaborative approach,” Mr. Shegog says.

A memorandum of understanding was created to help the two parties manage their collaborative approach and understand that while there were two different jurisdictions, both of the systems and processes were designed around a joint goal.

Once the plan was hatched, the team turned to construction. Stage One and Two of the project involved preparing existing roads to feed into the new crossing.

Stage One was the Murray Valley Highway and Warren Street intersection upgrade, which was completed in June 2018. This involved the creation of a new roundabout in Echuca, which removed “Y” shaped intersections that the community had long voiced safety concerns over.

Warren Street also required an upgrade, and this formed Stage Two of the project. Four new flood bridges were constructed along with a new roundabout at the Campaspe Esplanade, an extended right-hand turning lane into Homan Street, a new residential service road and a shared path.

The Warren Street upgrade was completed in November 2019 and now Major Road Projects Victoria is looking towards its last and biggest stage of the project – Stage Three.

This will see the construction of the two main bridges over the Murray and Campaspe rivers. Additionally, a new two-lane road with sealed shoulders north of the new roundabout on Warren Street in Echuca will connect to the Cobb Highway in Moama.

Two new flood relief bridges will be built in Stage Three alongside safety barriers, noise walls and a new safe and scenic shared walking and cycling path along the route and over the new bridges.

McConnell Dowell is the principal  contractor for Stage Three and in late February the team were already doing early environmental works and setting up the site compound. Major works are planned to start this month.

Warren Street after Stage Two construction.

The existing route delivers all of the crossing traffic through Echuca town centre. The extra crossing will help to divert heavy vehicles out of the town centre, reducing growing congestion.

“The new bridges will take 40 per cent of traffic off the existing bridge and a significant proportion of that will be heavy and oversized vehicles,” Mr. Shegog says.

It will also give another option to emergency services travelling in between towns, increasing their reliability.

Mr. Shegog says the closest crossing to the current bridge is over 100 kilometres away so there is a significant difference in response times for emergency vehicles. He says this means there is a huge safety benefit, with access for emergency services in case there is traffic congestion on the existing bridge.

Stage Four involves upgrading Moama intersections to connect the Cobb Highway and the new Murray River bridge. Construction of this stage began in early 2020 and is expected to take 18 months to complete.

To create the second crossing of the Murray River, a bridge with a 115-metre span will need to be constructed. Mr. Shegog says the team have chosen a balanced cantilever box girder bridge which will be cast on site.

“The Murray River Bridge will sit high in the air (about 15 metres high at the bank) and span 115 metres across the river, so the normal way of building bridges doesn’t quite suit those requirements. We had to choose between a balanced cantilever or an incrementally launched bridge and this was the one we decided on,” he says.

For the Murray River Crossing, the contractor decided that the piers were to be pulled back off the bank and out of the water. The bridge also needed to be of significant height to allow river boats and paddle steamers to travel underneath.

For this reason, a balanced cantilever box girder bridge was well suited to the project’s requirements. This is cast on-site and constructed by travelling forms from either bank, so the bridge grows progressively across the river and meets in the middle.

“The Campaspe River crossing and the flood relief bridges will all be constructed using precast concrete super-T girders. The super-T design is a standard, very well practiced and efficient design,” Mr. Shegog says.

When planning the six flood relief bridges on the project, the team did extensive flood modelling to ensure the new alignment did not increase flooding risk in surrounding areas.

“The flood relief structures are based around making sure there are enough waterway openings, to guarantee a flood could behave no worse. We have done a lot of work with the councils in the area to fine tune flooding impacts,” Mr. Shegog says.

The Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework has lead to a focus on sustainability.

Mr. Shegog says in Stage Two, the contractor Winslow, had all of their precast beams constructed in the local Humes factory,”

Stage Two also saw around 95 percent of the timber cut down, provided to catchment management authorities for their river aquatic works to enhance fish and river health.

“We have a plan in place for any timber we might want to remove on the project to be reused. The Port of Echuca has taken delivery of long lengths of timber to restore their wharves and the Kyabram Fauna Park has used timber to improve its habitats for native creatures,” Mr. Shegog says.

As the project is situated over two state borders it had to obtain two environmental approvals, the Environmental Effects Statement in Victoria and a Review of Environmental Factors in NSW.

“Through that process we commissioned a detailed tree mapping study and developed a vegetation database. We also developed a comprehensive understanding of what flora and fauna were across the site. From there we worked up plans to protect and care for those species,” Mr. Shegog says.

The Victorian Temperate Woodland Bird Community and squirrel gliders are the main species in need of protection on the project.

To increase liveability for the surrounding communities, shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists will be a significant addition to the project.

“We’ve already built two kilometres of shared path on Warren Street and we will be joining that up right through Victoria Park and onto the NSW side,” Mr. Shegog says.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Once major construction has begun on Stage Three, the Echuca-Moama bridge crossing is expected to be open in 2022.

Over the next two years crews will work hard across both sides of the border to deliver the project on time.

“So far we have delivered two stages with an impeccable safety record with no recordable injuries and no lost time injuries. Stage Two was also finished a month early. We have set a high benchmark for the team and will endeavour to maintain similar behaviour for Stage Three, right through until completion,” Mr. Shegog says.


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