THE Shoalhaven Historical Society has welcomed news the historic 137-year-old Nowra bridge will be retained.
There had been fears the iron bridge crossing the Shoalhaven River could be removed once the new crossing further west of the current structure was constructed.
The society has led a campaign to keep the the historic structure since 2014, with president Lynne Allen and secretary Tim Rigney preparing an in-depth submission regarding the bridge’s retention and future.
Following extensive community consultation the state government has announced the bridge will remain with a commitment secured for the bridge’s on-going maintenance.
More than 1,850 people shared their feedback through community engagement activities including at pop up kiosks in Stockland Nowra, at the Shoalhaven River Festival and at two public information sessions, with 540 submissions from a total of 720 in support of keeping the structure.
Mr Rigney said it was great news the 342 metre historic bridge, often seen as the gateway to Nowra, was going to be saved.
“This is something we been fighting for for a long time,” he said.
“It is the town’s icon. This is what Nowra is, the Nowra Bridge.
“Everyone says they know they are in Nowra when they cross that bridge.
Read more: Is this the future of the old Nowra bridge?
“Two years ago I thought we had no hope of saving it but this is a great outcome. I can’t believe it really, amazing.”
The society’s 20-page submission about saving the bridge has been used by the Royal Australian Historical Society as an example of how to prepare a submission.
The local society also established a Facebook page, The Old Nowra Bridge, and even produced embroidered caps in support of saving the bridge.
Mr Rigney joked the caps might now become “collectors’ items”.
“We did the whole social media campaign and about 85 per cent of the responses we got were positive, especially the older folk in town who were in favour of keeping the bridge,” he said.
“It’s a great outcome.”
This bridge, an American pin-jointed Whipple truss construction, was the first of its type in the country with Mr Rigney saying it is one of only three such structures in the country, giving it “state and national heritage significance.”
Completed in 1881, it is the only example of a pin-jointed Whipple truss bridge in service in NSW.
However, RMS documents revealed keeping the structure would cost between $15-$25 million to fix a variety of problems with the bridge and then a further maintenance cost of around $15m over 50 years or $300,000 a year.
To relocate or remove the structure is estimated to cost between $10-$20 million.
RMS has stated it spends around $1m a year now on maintenance of the bridge, but that is expected to be less when traffic is eventually removed from the structure.
But with on-going maintenance funding now assured, the future of the bridge is secure.
Investigations will now be held into the potential uses for the bridge once it is retired from the road network ensuring it is able to be easily adapted for multiple purposes and also include a shared pedestrian and cyclist path.
Mr Rigney said he would like to see some imagination used and the structure not just be turned into a footpath.
“There are so many things the bridge could be used for,” he said “ask the community.
“There are commercial opportunities, why not have pop up cafes. It could be used as a wedding venue or for markets.
“There are thousands of examples around the world where old bridges have been repurposed for the community.
“It should be something that attracts people back to the river.
“When it was first built it was a tourist attraction in its own right - people would come down from Sydney just to see it. We’d love to see it go back to that.”
The government says the community will be at the centre of any decision regarding any future use.
Highly respected local historian and Shoalhaven Historical Society life member Robyn Florance said the bridge has played a pivotal role in the city’s history.
“Everyone has a story about the Nowra bridge and there are so many,” she said.
“Reg Jennings used to walk cattle from Bolong every year to the Nowra Show across the bridge. Of course the Waratahs World War I recruiting march crossed the bridge, which was reenacted for its centenary. There was even a circus elephant who decided to have a rest on the bridge. So many stories over so many years.”
Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis, who announced at the Shoalhaven River Festival in October last year the historic Nowra bridge would remain, was also thrilled with the news.
“I’m glad to see the $10 million the federal government put forward for studies and planning into the new crossing led to the findings the old bridge could remain,” she said.
“Those studies have looked at the old bridge, where the new bridge would go and how it would interconnect with all the intersections,” she said.
“They have pretty much finished all the engineering and environmental evaluations.”
But despite making the announcement the bridge would stay Mrs Sudmalis did not have any funding to pay for its upkeep, saying it was a state asset and thus a state problem.
She congratulated her state colleagues for lobbying and being successful in gaining the needed funds.
“Now the new model is build the bridge,” she said.
“As soon as we get those final cost estimates we will know what we are looking at and what the final targets are and we can build the bridge.”
The preferred option report for the new Nowra Bridge over the Shoalhaven River, which will be to the west (upstream) of the existing bridge, with intersection improvements on the Princes Highway will be released shortly.