PALERANG Shire Council has imposed a 10-tonne weight limit on its patch of Oallen Ford Rd less than two weeks after a fatal accident at the busy thoroughfare’s bridge.
Heavy vehicles are breaking up the road, causing significant safety and public liability problems, says the Council’s works director, Gordon Cunningham.
The limit was imposed last Thursday.
Signage is being erected this week, with compliance to be monitored by the South East Weight of Loads officers.
Despite the move, Goulburn Mulwaree is not contemplating any such reduction from its current 15- tonne load limit on the road.
On Sunday, October 4, Jerrabomberra man James Hughes, 50, died after his motorcyclist allegedly hit a pothole on the western side of the bridge, within Goulburn Mulwaree’s boundary.
He was thrown from the bike and landed five metres below on the riverbank.
Residents have claimed the bridge approaches were breaking up weeks before the crash due to trucks braking heavily on the decline before the bridge.
They’ve also accused Council of not allowing the road to properly dry out after it was sealed, contributing to the large pothole.
Mayor Geoff Kettle on Monday again declined to comment until a police investigation into the accident was finished.
But he said he didn’t think a 10-tonne limit was “appropriate” for Goulburn Mulwaree’s stretch of the road.
“You can’t even get a school bus across with that (restriction),” he said.
“The bridge can cope with 60 tonnes but it’s obviously a matter of what the roads can take.”
Palerang’s stance potentially puts the two councils on a collision course over load limits.
More recently Goulburn Mulwaree has moved to increase weight restrictions on roads and build sturdier bridges to enable more efficient transport of stock and produce.
While it controls Oallen Ford Rd up to the bridge, the thoroughfare falls under Palerang’s control immediately after, thereby imposing difficulties for haulers coping with the 10-tonne limit.
However Cr Kettle said he and staff were talking to Palerang Shire about imposing a consistent 15-tonne restriction on the road.
But on Monday, Mr Cunningham was adamant the 10 tonne limit was warranted.
He said traffic volumes had increased dramatically since the bridge’s September 11 opening.
“A significant component of these is heavy vehicles,” he said.
“The Oallen Ford Rd is a locally sealed road constructed many decades ago using locally sourced materials and design criteria at that time.
“The road is not structurally capable of catering for the level of heavy traffic that is currently using this route and the pavement has deteriorated significantly in the three to four weeks since the bridge was opened to traffic.”
He estimated a $250,000 repair bill just over that period.
The “bare minimum” was $350,000 per kilometre for repairs and with a 14km stretch to look after, Mr Cunningham said it was simply unaffordable.
He told the Post that Palerang was considering a reduced load limit on the road before its recent construction.
Staff maintained a “watching brief” on the new pavement.
He said it was evident after three weeks the road was breaking up.
“My maintenance inspector came back and said ‘we are in a lot of trouble,’” he said.
MR Cunningham believed Goulburn Mulwaree was aware of the road damage as it had posted repair markers on the Palerang side of the bridge.
He could not say whether they had also been posted on Goulburn Mulwaree’s side near the pothole or beyond.
But he believed Palerang had far bigger problems than its neighbour in terms of Oallen Ford Rd damage.
He’s denied trying to “snooker” Goulburn Mulwaree on the load limit, saying he was simply assessing the weight that was appropriate for his council area and the road’s capacity.
If not done, Palerang was looking at a “huge financial liability.”
“A consistent load limit does make sense in my view but Goulburn Mulwaree may assess something different for their roads,” he said.
Mr Cunningham said he was not seeking the reduced limit in direct response to Mr Hughes’ crash.
While he has sought details of the accident from the Roads and Maritime Service, he could not say whether the pothole was a contributor.
But asked whether his council was concerned with potential public liability for road failures, he told the Post: “If we don’t do anything the road will continue to deteriorate and it is very difficult to stay on top of that.
“Yes, we are protecting our asset but if we don’t do it, we are creating a hazard and potential liability.”
Mr Cunningham described Mr Hughes’ death as terrible and shocking for everyone.
Cr Kettle said Goulburn Mulwaree crews had undertaken temporary repairs to the road following residents’ complaints before the accident but could not say whether this related to the pothole.
Police called them to the scene some five hours after Mr Hughes’ crash to fill in the hole.
He stood by Council’s move to increase road and bridge weight restrictions, saying it was about efficient movement of livestock and produce which contributed to economic development.
“It is a matter of working with our funding providers and stakeholders to get our roads up to scratch,” he said.