After almost a year of inaction on the closed Umbagong (Latham) Park bridges, fed-up locals have had enough and are calling on the government to (quite literally) build a bridge so they can get over it.
Three of the park’s bridges were closed in April 2021 when they were deemed “potentially unsafe, mainly due to deterioration in the timber” during a routine inspection.
But Umbagong Bridges Community Action Group co-chair David Sprinkle said after almost a year, there’s been no action.
“There’s now this cycle of frustration. Community members tear down the fencing and signage so they can cross the bridges, and then the government comes along and puts it back up,” he said.
“A lot of the time, they don’t clear away the wire and previous signage either which then becomes more of a hazard.”
At the time of the closure, the government said it was well aware the park was an important space for the community and the bridges were well-used.
“We are working on an approach to make sure the three footbridges are safe and access is maintained for the community,” the spokesperson said.
Locals say a year is quite long enough and are calling for the government to fix the three walking and cycling bridges by April 2022 at the latest – or, at the very least, find a temporary repair measure so they can be used again.
More than 450 people have now added their names to an online petition, which Mr Sprinkle says demonstrates just how important the bridges are to the community.
The Umbagong District Park is a much-loved area of about 50 hectares of grassy woodland through which the Ginninderra Creek flows.
For the most part, the park is managed by the local Landcare Group, but it also provides space for walking and bike-riding with flat trails and amenities like toilet facilities and playgrounds.
With the closure of the three bridges, Mr Sprinkle explained it means bike riders and walkers have to take detours, often of several kilometres, to access some areas of the park.
“This includes kids riding their bikes to school and people riding their bikes to work,” he noted.
Mr Sprinkle said he hoped the Umbagong Bridges Community Action Group acts as a circuit breaker because of the lack of progress on the project and communication over the last year.
He acknowledged that COVID-19 has impacted government operations but still said they need urgent minimum bridge repairs to ensure safe access for the many people who regularly use the park.
“We understand that with COVID-19, not every project has been given the attention it deserves, and it seems as though this has fallen through the cracks,” he said.
The group has been told the environmental impact and assessment “should” be completed by the end of February 2022.
“But the bridges might not be replaced for another two years at the rate the project is moving. The community can’t wait that long,” Mr Sprinkle said.
He said the group only wants to engage constructively with the government and they aren’t looking to cause any trouble. Instead, they just want to get things done.
The ACT Government’s latest update said ecological and heritage assessments are continuing.