Tooleybuc Bridge closure and detours have Victoria-NSW border community struggling

Residents of South West New South Wales have criticized transport authorities for failing to consult them on the temporary closure of a key Murray River crossing and vowed to fight the move.

The Tooleybuc Bridge will be closed for six weeks from the end of May while Transport for NSW repairs the level crossing which forms part of the Murray Valley Highway, a major heavy vehicle route linking Sydney and Adelaide.

In a statement, the government said the works would see the installation of piles and steel trestles to better support and reinforce the bridge.

“Detours will be in place during this work, with light vehicles to cross the Murray River via the Nyah Bridge [and] B Doubles will be diverted via Swan Hill Bridge,” a spokesperson said.

The Tooleybuc Bridge will be closed for six weeks from the end of May.(ABC News: Francesco Salvo )

Tooleybuc resident Tracey Domaille said the community was surprised by the closure and only found out about it at the local post office.

“When I contacted [Transport for NSW] they basically said there was nothing to do, it would be closed for six weeks,” she said.

Ms Domaille lives and works in NSW but her husband, a plumber, is frequently called upon for jobs in Victoria and now faces long delays.

Two women look angry.
Tracey Domaille (right) says businesses that have suffered during the pandemic will face another economic hit if the bridge closes. (ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

“If he were to go to Piangil [in Victoria] he should go all the way to Nyah and then back to Piangil,” she said.

“What would have been a five minute drive has now become half an hour.

The community unites to fight against the abrupt closure

An emergency meeting was held Thursday, attended by Independent MP Helen Dalton, who represents Murray’s electorate.

More than 80 people showed up — nearly half of Tooleybuc’s 180 residents.

A yellow sign next to a road.
Residents say the closure of the Tooleybuc Bridge will cause major travel delays. (ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

Ms Domaille said the community expressed a range of emotions at the meeting and resolved to fight the closure.

“Angry, confused, why hasn’t anyone spoken to us? Because all we have is a message from the post office,” she said.

“I don’t know if anyone in Sydney looked at Tooleybuc and said ‘it’s only 180 people it’s going to affect’, but it’s not.

“You think ‘what’s the pub going to do? What’s the club going to do? What about the motels?’ But it’s more than that.

“We have a huge farming community here and…it could affect dozens of workers.”

Citrus grower Leon Caccaviello says he will have up to 60 seasonal workers who will have to deal with longer commutes.

A row of orange trees.
Citrus growers fear the shutdown will force them to pay more to transport their produce to market. (ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

He said his business would also be stung by additional transportation costs due to detours, with each crate of produce brought to market likely costing him an extra $100.

“Nobody ever gets compensated for stuff like that, so the burden is on the company,” he said.

“We are forgotten.”

He said he would like to see authorities install a temporary bridge to minimize the impact of the improvements, a proposal others in the city also support.

New abandoned bridge, frustrations over pandemic closure

Helen Dalton promised to take the community’s concerns to state and federal transportation authorities.

A woman in a blue shirt holding a hat standing in front of sheep.
Murray’s Independent MP Helen Dalton said the community had been treated “unfairly” and was understandably upset. (Provided)

She said it was not the first time the government had misjudged community sentiment about the bridge.

“They tend to ignore people,” she said.

“The further west you go, the more ‘ignored’ you are.”

At the height of a Victorian coronavirus outbreak in 2020, NSW Police diverted traffic from Tooleybuc to Swan Hill Bridge after a hard border was announced, a move the local community opposed .

“Tooleybuc has been through the COVID-19 shutdown, just so they’re not going to agree to another shutdown,” Ms Dalton said.

Closed road sign blocks the entrance to an old steel bridge.
The Tooleybuc Bridge was closed to all traffic as part of the Victoria-NSW hard border in 2020.(Provided)

In 2012, the New South Wales government decided to remove the bridge to build a new crossing and acquired several properties for demolition.

Mr. Caccaviello’s house was one of them.

“My house was acquired. I didn’t sell to them, I didn’t want to,” he said.

“I lived in this house for 16 years.”

But in 2019 plans for the new crossing were scrapped for good after a government review found the existing bridge needed to be retained and upgraded, rather than completely replaced.

Mr Caccaviello said his old house was put up for rent after the new bridge was abandoned, but he wanted it back.

“It’s a half-acre block on the river, [it has] city ​​water, city sewer…and it’s right next to the park,” he said.

A bridge over the Murray River.
In 2019 the NSW Government abandoned plans to build a new Tooleybuc Bridge.(ABC News: Francesco Salvo)

Ms Dalton says it’s easy to see why the community is angry about the planned six-week closure and lack of consultation, given their previous dealings with authorities.

“Residents are quite angry about what happened,” she said.

“The state government has acquired land for a proposed new bridge, but it appears to be completely off the table now.

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