Dongara Bypass Submission from IDHS

Ms Leanne Pitcher
Community Relations Manager
Dongara-Geraldton-Northampton Route Planning
Main Roads WA
Leanne.pitcher@mainroads.wa.gov.au 

Dear Ms Pitcher

Further to our phone conversation of 9 March, please find attached a submission concerning the planning being undertaken for the new heavy traffic route from Dongara to Northampton.  This submission is limited in scope to that part of the proposed route that traverses the Shire of Irwin, which occasional reference to the Greenough Front Flats.

Generally, the Society has considered the cultural costs and benefits of a new route for heavy traffic, versus maintaining the existing route and expanding its physical infrastructure to cope with the every-increasing size and volume of heavy vehicles.  

On the one hand, the continuing expansion of the existing highway width, the removal of historic curves and bends (such as Pell Bridge approaches, Bookara Bends and the S Bends) and the addition of new elements such as overtaking lanes has obvious impacts on the historical landscapes and buildings of the East End and Dongara Flats around Dongara, and the Greenough Front Flats further north.  These are all very significant historic landscapes, with much surviving evidence of their colonisation through convict labour and settlement from the 1850s onwards.  These landscapes are probably unique in Western Australia for the sheer quantity of convict-era historic structures and rural landscapes that have survived for over 150 years, including certain lengths of the highway itself.  

On the one hand, the continuing expansion of the existing highway width, the removal of historic curves and bends (such as Pell Bridge approaches, Bookara Bends and the S Bends) and the addition of new elements such as overtaking lanes has obvious impacts on the historical landscapes and buildings of the East End and Dongara Flats around Dongara, and the Greenough Front Flats further north.  These are all very significant historic landscapes, with much surviving evidence of their colonisation through convict labour and settlement from the 1850s onwards.  These landscapes are probably unique in Western Australia for the sheer quantity of convict-era historic structures and rural landscapes that have survived for over 150 years, including certain lengths of the highway itself. 

On the other hand, the proposed route will impose impacts on the cultural landscapes of the Irwin River valley around Pells Bridge and the sandplains and breakaways countryside around Mt Hill and Allanooka, and destroy 61 hectares of bushland.  These are areas of great natural beauty and important natural heritage values, as well as largely unmapped overland north-south travel routes from the 1850s and much earlier, such as Irwin Local Heritage Survey (LHS) place no 128, ‘Stock Route’. 

After much consideration, the Society has come to the view that, on balance, we will not object to the new route because there are greater opportunities to ameliorate or lessen its impacts on the landscapes through which it will pass than continuing to develop the existing route with its inevitably devastating impacts on a large range of cultural heritage places.

Our submission concerns the design of a viaduct or bridge over the Irwin Valley at Pells Bridge, possibilities for enhancing the natural and cultural landscapes around Allanooka and Mt Hill, impacts on traditional view lines to Mt Horner, and the name of the new route.  

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission,

Yours sincerely, (for IDHS)

Crossing the Irwin Valley over Pell Bridge

We assume that a new and fairly large bridge or viaduct will need to be built to connect the higher land from Stonehurst Ridge, above the present Brand Highway/Ellery Road intersection on the south side of the Irwin valley, with the Quarry Ridge on the north side of the Irwin valley – see Figure 1 below.

The alternative is to build a new road over the current ground level that will require traffic to descend and ascend the valley sides, and cross the river at another new bridge, and intersect with the existing Midland Road/Brand Highway route, which would seem contrary to the purpose of building the new route.

Figure 2, shows each of the view lines numbered in Figure 1 to illustrate the topography of the valley between the two ridges that will be impacted by the new route and viaduct.

Assuming this is generally correct, and in order to avoid impacts on historic sites in the vicinity (Pell Bridge/Pell Crossing [Pt LHS 126], the old quarry and lime kilns site [Pt LHS 126], and Pell Cottage ruins [LHS 112], and to avoid marring the natural beauty of this section of the Irwin valley where the river has cut a meandering channel between limestone bluffs and ridges, we submit that the design of the new road bridge or viaduct should be consistent with these principles:

  1. Bridge deck should directly connect to high points on either side of the valley, without extensive ramparts or visible earthworks or numerous supports.
  2. Avoid physical or visual impacts on known historic sites, 
  3. Avoid any physical structures within the river bed and river banks.
  4. The bridge level should be well above the recorded flood levels of the river.
  5. The structure should be light-weight, not heavy or ponderous, with a general design that reflects the light, open, modernist concrete road bridges and viaducts on Italian Autostrade and German Autobahns.
  6. Concrete should be faced with local limestone to reflect the local character.
  7. Design should take into account that this bridge or viaduct will become the new eastern gateway from the inland to the coast with considerable visual importance and potential to divert tourist traffic from the new route into Dongara.
  8. Design should respond to and enhance the natural and rural beauty of the location – it should not be an off the shelf design ‘dropped in’ on the site.
  9. On and off ramps connecting to Midland Road should utilise the natural topography of the valley sides.
  10. Post-construction planting of the bridge and road verges should focus on using local native species.
  11. The area of natural bushland destroyed by construction works and the final structure must be off-set by the regeneration of at least the same acreage of new bushland within the general vicinity.
  12. Wildlife fencing and adequate wildlife crossings (tunnels or bridges) around the viaduct approaches and on and off ramps.

Allanooka and Mt Hill landscapes

Mt Hill (Indigenous name Jocko) marks the visual boundary (even if not the precise cadastral boundary) between the Irwinshire and the former Shire of Greenough, now incorporated into the City of Greater Geraldton.  Its name possibly recalls Mt Hill in Scotland, to which it looks remarkably similar in its bluff form and setting.  The Allanooka area was formerly a large wetland (Ngarlingue Swamp) that was home to extensive bird and wildlife populations and a place of great natural beauty.  The whole area was first colonised in the 1850s as expansive pastoral leases connected to the colonisation of Greenough and the Irwin valley.  This had a relatively light impact on the original bushland of the area before agricultural clearing after World War Two.  The wetlands have been gradually diminished since the reticulated water scheme for Dongara in 1964 and Geraldton in 1966 began drawing water from the site, and today little or no surface water body is extant.  Despite these changes, Mt Hill and Allanooka remain historically and aesthetically significant landscapes.

The Alignment Selection Report, Draft 2020, describes this countryside as “rolling terrain” that will require “some relatively significant earthworks … to achieve a suitable design standard” (s6.3.1).  The proposed route shown in the Alignment Selection Report, Draft 2020, indicates the route will traverse and encroach into the western edge of the Public Drinking Water Supply Area (PDWSA) centred on Allanooka (s6.3.4).  Mitigation measures such as bunds to contain spills/leaching and pollution from the highway are identified.  

We would describe this ‘rolling terrain’ as an area of great natural beauty consisting of high windswept sandplains and breakaways, with extensive westerly views over the coast and dotted with marshy hollows and remnant bushland reminiscent of a moorland.  Mt Hill and Allanooka are key features in this landscape.  There are numerous historical reports describing the wild beauty of the area, and we argue that the mitigation measures need to be much more broadly considered than simply bunds to control pollution leaching from the highway surface.  The impacts of ‘significant earthworks’ also need to much better defined and explained.

We submit that the design of the route through the Allanooka and Mt Hill area needs to be consistent with these principles in order to retain and ideally regenerate its natural beauty and capacity to continue supplying drinking water: 

  1. Bushland that is impacted needs to be offset by at least the same acreage of bushland regenerated within the local area.
  2. Avoid impeding natural water flows by bridges and culverts rather than blocking or diverting gullies, creeks and so on, 
  3. No stopping points, lay overs, roadhouse sites, and so on should be sited along the route, and especially within or near the PDWSA or within the view shed of Mt Hill.
  4. Screen planting along both sides of the route through the Allanooka and Mt Hill area, using local native species.
  5. Wildlife fencing and adequate wildlife crossings (tunnels or bridges), at least in the PDWSA and Mt Hill viewshed are needed, and 
  6. Night lighting of the route should be minimal to protect wildlife habitat and views of the night skies, and generally prevent or at least reduce light pollution.

Figure 4: Mt Hill landscapes

Mt Horner, at 227 metres above sea level, is the highest point in the Irwinshire.  Its indigenous name is Eurangoa, and was renamed Mt Horner by George Grey in 1839.  It can be seen from most high points around Dongara and across the Shire.  It can also be seen out at sea, and is an important navigation aid for fishers and other mariners.  Views to Mt Horner are of some cultural significance to local residents, with the pointed, pyramidal shape of the hill a distinctive feature of the eastern horizon.  Although included within some colonial-era pastoral leases, and later within the Midland Railway Company land grant area, the Mt Horner landscape remained relatively wild until the being cleared for post-World War Two sandplain agriculture.  The mountain is a trig station from which much of the surrounding countryside was surveyed for farming, and remains a small trig reserve.  It has aesthetic, social and historical significance for the local community.

The proposed route will traverse the countryside between Dongara and Mt Horner, some eight kilometres west of Mt Horner, and will form a visible line in the long views across that landscape.  The current rural views from the town to Mt Horner, from locations such as the Pearse Road/Ocean Drive precinct, and the Leander Point Obelisk, will potentially be disrupted by the line of the route, the flow of very large vehicles along the route and traffic and highway lighting at night.

We submit that an objective of the route design should be to maintain existing views to Mt Horner from Dongara, Port Denison and other key locations within the shire, as well as from out at sea, by incorporating these principles to ameliorate negative impacts:

  1. Minimise the visual impacts of the route and route infrastructure including lighting from key view points within Dongara and Port Denison.
  2. Screen planting along at least the western side of the route through the Irwinshire, using local native species.
  3. Prevent the construction of roadhouses and other facilities along this part of the route.
  4. Wildlife fencing and adequate wildlife crossings (tunnels or bridges) along the route, and 
  5. Maintaining the ‘General Farming’ zoning of land either side of the route, maintaining the PDWSA west of Mt Horner, and increasing areas zoned ‘Conservation’ in the vicinity of Mt Horner.  We understand this is not within the MRD purview, but the principle could be endorsed.

Name of the new route

We assume that the new route will have a name of some sort other than the current Dongara-Geraldton-Northampton Corridor or Bypass.  

On 4 April 1975, when the current highway from Pell Bridge to Muchea was opened, it was named Geraldton Highway.  A year later, on 30 April 1976, the stretch of highway from Muchea to Geraldton was renamed Brand Highway in honour of Sir David Brand, former premier and MLA for Greenough, a seat that included Dongara.  The naming ceremony was conducted at Dongara by Brand’s successor Sir Charles Court, although the naming plaque has since vanished.  The name Geraldton Highway was gazetted on 17 September 1943 for the route from Geraldton via Dongara and Mingenew to Walebing, and when the ‘new’ Geraldton Highway opened in 1975, the old route from Pell Bridge to Walebing was renamed Midlands Road.

The impetus for re-naming Geraldton Highway to Brand Highway (and indeed abandoning the name Geraldton Highway) came from the Irwin Districts Historical Society lobbying the premier Sir Charles Court.  Brand retired from the State parliament in 21 August 1975, and the Society wanted a fitting commemoration for the man considered a local champion.  Brand was born in Dongara, and was running a local store when recruited to the Liberal Party in 1945.  His birthplace was destroyed in the 1971 flood, and the new highway name was considered a fitting tribute for the man who championed the State’s industrial development and established the Kwinana industrial area, activities closely associated with the proposed new route.

We submit that the name Brand Highway should be extended along the new route from Pell Bridge to Northampton, and the current section of Brand Highway from Pell Bridge to Geraldton should revert to its historic name.

In support of extending the name to the new route, we argue that

  1. Brand’s mother was born in Northampton, and her father Samuel Mitchell was a colonial parliamentarian representing the Northampton area.  It was through the Mitchell’s that Brand was introduced to politics.  Northampton and Dongara were both parts of the electoral district of Greenough represented by Brand from 1945 to 1975, which circled but did not include Geraldton.  Extending Brand Highway to Northampton would more fully represent the political history of Sir David Brand.
  2. Having the Brand Highway connect directly with North West Coastal Highway near Northampton would be a logical naming system that clearly indicated the preferred route for north-south heavy vehicles.
  3. While Brand was in government between 1949-1950, and 1959-1971, he advocated the development of Allanooka, which the new route will skirt, as a regional water supply, and formally opened the reticulated water schemes in Dongara and Geraldton.

The other argument for naming the new route Brand Highway is that it would allow the Pell Bridge-Geraldton section of the present highway to revert to its historic name.  This could be either Geraldton Highway, rendered as Old Geraldton Highway, or even the pre-1943 sequence of names: Irwin Road-Greenough Road-Company Road-Gregory Road-Greenough Road, names that date from the convict period in the 1860s.  

  1. The advantage of either of these approaches, or some variation on them, is that it would facilitate the revitalisation of the 244 kilometre Tourist Drive 354 from Dongara to Kalbarri via Greenough, Geraldton and Northampton.  A name such as Old Geraldton Hwy would clearly indicate to tourists travelling on the Brand Highway as they approach Dongara and the new viaduct that they can access Geraldton by a route without heavy traffic, and with tourist attractions including rich historic landscapes (and more) by turning-off at Dongara to travel to Geraldton via Greenough, and on to Northampton and Kalbarri.  This would facilitate the separation of tourist and local traffic, and heavy inter-regional traffic, which would be consistent with the objectives of developing the new route.
  2. The road from Geraldton to Pell Bridge was known by a sequence of historic names from the 1860s to 1943 (80 years), as Geraldton Highway from 1943 to 1976 (33 years), and as Brand Highway only since 1976 (44 years).  There is historical precedent for re-naming this route at particular points in history, and the new route offers such a point.

Taken together, these arguments put forward a compelling case for using the new route to consider a more logical and holistic approach to naming the major north-south routes in the Batavia Coast region, with the Brand Highway-North West Coastal Highway names indicating the key heavy traffic route, and a name such as Old Geraldton Highway indicating a significant tourist route to attract visitors off the Brand Highway.

Figure 6: A history of by-passing and re-naming

Summary

  1. Given the projected increases in the volumes of heavy traffic and the destructive impacts on historic landscapes and places around Dongara and Greenough that will inevitably follow the continuing expansion of the current Pell Bridge to Geraldton route, our preference is for the new Pell Bridge to Northampton route to be developed where impacts can be better ameliorated.
  2. The connection between the existing Brand Highway and the new route over Pell Bridge (Stonehurst Ridge – Quarry Ridge) will need especially skilful design to enhance its setting in the Irwin River valley and provide a new eastern gateway to Dongara and the coast.  It must not be a standard off-the-shelf design.
  3. The Mt Hill and Allanooka areas are landscapes of great natural beauty and supply drinking water to Dongara and Geraldton.  The route design needs to respond to the moorland landscape character and seek to enhance its water collecting capacities and water quality.
  4. The new route will cut through important long views to Mt Horner from Dongara, Port Denison, high points in the Irwinshire, and out at sea.  It is a major local and coastal landmark, and the route design needs to minimise the visual separation of long views to the mountain.
  5. The name Brand Highway should be extended to the new Pell Bridge to Northampton route, and the present Pell Bridge to Geraldton route should revert to a historic name, preferably Old Geraldton Highway, to attract tourist traffic off the new route and facilitate revitalising Tourist Drive 354.
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