An incident which occurred on the Joy Baluch AM bridge last week has angered many community members, re-igniting the ongoing battle for the duplication of the iconic bridge.
The Transcontinental has received reports of an emergency ambulance which was unable to pass over the bridge due to traffic controls for night roadworks.
The ambulance, lights and sirens flashing, was forced to sit and wait in banked up traffic while roadworkers directed vehicles through a one-way lane on the bridge.
Several residents witnessed the incident, and took to an online forum to voice their concerns, stressing the necessity of a bridge duplication for emergencies such as this, given it is is the sole bridge over the Spencer Gulf connecting east and west Australia.
Port Augusta City mayor Sam Johnson said this has been an ongoing battle for the Port Augusta community for many years.
“I’ve been in local government for eight years and it’s been pretty active in that time,” he said.
“I know Joy [Baluch] was very active about this for, I’d confidently say, at least the last 10 to 15 years.”
Mayor Johnson said it is an absolute necessity to have the bridge duplicated for reasons of safety and practicality, and that state politicians are failing to address the seriousness of the issue.
“You’ve only got to take a look at the recent examples where there’s been multiple wide loads coming through over the last week, and while it was only closed for a short period of time, you would have seen the traffic build up the other day in a period of ten minutes,” he said.
“You virtually gridlock your whole CBD, but not only that; you stop east-west traffic for the whole of Australia, which is a problem.
“And when you see an ambulance coming through get stuck, you think well, the reality is, who has to die before something is done?”
Long-time Port Augusta local Lyn Scott recalled when the bridge was first built, suggesting the project lacked practicality from the beginning.
“Like all things, when it went up it was wonderful...but there didn’t seem to be any forward-thinking,” she said.
Mrs Scott said it has always been a problem, echoing mayor Johnson’s concerns.
She was on the beach when she witnessed the ambulance at a standstill on the western side of the bridge.
“You cannot put a pause on an emergency,” she said.
“You can’t push it under the carpet all the time, because one day something diabolical is going to happen on that bridge, for sure.
“Then we’re cut off.”
If an accident does occur on the bridge, or the bridge has to be closed off for a period of time, this leaves only one other option for travellers; Yorkeys Crossing.
Yorkeys Crossing, a heavy-vehicle bypass which travels up and around the Spencer Gulf, is also widely regarded as a neglected, relatively unsafe travel route due to unsealed roads and lack of maintenance.
Port Augusta City Council have also been campaigning to have Yorkeys Crossing upgraded for many years now.
“If you seal Yorkey’s Crossing, that’s a good alternative, but is it a long term alternative?,” Mr Johnson questioned.
“Probably not - the duplication of the bridge is the real answer.”
Mrs Scott has identified the situation as ‘either / or’ scenario.
“Either give us a sister bridge, or they upgrade Yorkeys Crossing and keep it done up,” she said.
“Ideally, we need a sister bridge to our ‘wait-a-while’ bridge. “
Mrs Scott believes the problem is only going to get worse given the ongoing increase in road traffic.
Mayor Johnson said it is the city-centric nature of the state government and its inability to prioritise infrastructure projects which is to blame.
“You look at the infrastructure spending in Adelaide...when all of a sudden, you pluck $45 million out to build a footbridge from Adelaide to North Adelaide,” he said.
“When you can pull $45 million out of nowhere, you’ve got to wonder where a government’s priorities are.
“Is that more important than keeping east-west Australia alive?”
Mrs Scott said she has personally contacted Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Tom Koutsantonis outlining the severity of the situation for Port Augusta, and she encourages the rest of the community to get on board and push for change.
“We exist outside of Adelaide - everybody pays their taxes,” she said.
“[Being] ‘too busy in the city’ doesn’t wash with me.”