THE opening of the high-level Woronora Bridge was with greeted with jubilation in 2001 after a frustrating, 10-year political battle.
Premier Bob Carr opened the $47 million Woronora Bridge on Sunday, February 11.
‘‘The St George and Sutherland Scottish Pipe Band led the procession, followed by tankers from the Menai and Sutherland fire brigades and the Rural Fire Service,’’ the Leader reported.
‘‘Tens of thousands of people, including students from Woronora Public School, took part in the bridge walk, which also doubled as a fundraising drive for five local charities.’’
Ironically, before the 1995 election, which led to him becoming Premier, Mr Carr promised to block the bridge on environmental grounds.
The battle for a new elevated bridge at Woronora began at the 1988 state election when the coalition promised to fund road works in the Menai area, which was in the electorate of Woronora, held by Labor’s Maurie Keane.
The coalition led by Nick Greiner swept to victory that year, with Chris Downy winning Woronora for the Liberal Party.
In 1990, the Roads and Traffic Authority released a detailed plan for a new medium-level bridge, with twin, two-lane decks, the first to be started in 1991 and completed in 1994 at a cost of $32 million.
The RTA forecast the second stage of the bridge would be needed about 2000.
However, the coalition government moved slowly and, by 1993, the new bridge hadn’t got off the drawing board.
A leaked government document revealed $5 million from a new petrol levy, which was earmarked for the Woronora Bridge, had been diverted to the North Shore to accelerate the Gore Hill freeway.
In the 1993-94 state budget, a meagre $500,000 was allocated to plan the Woronora project.
Sutherland Shire Council, which was controlled by the Labor Party at the time, was totally opposed to the project.
Labor councillors labelled it “a bridge to nowhere” because of the lack of road infrastructure on the western side of the river.
They wanted the money spent upgrading the north-south route from Heathcote to Alfords Point.
In 1994, the state coalition government began construction, but instead of providing a funding stream for the entire project, only let a contract to build the pylons at a cost of $6 million.
During the 1995 state election campaign, then Opposition Leader Bob Carr sided with the council in opposing the bridge.
He said it would destroy the environment of the valley.
In its first budget in 1995-96, the Carr government allocated no further funding, leaving the $6 million piers as nothing more than a resting place for the seagulls.
Roads Minister Michael Knight said there was too much division in the local community about the issue.
The decision helped produce a huge upset win for Liberal candidate for Hughes Danna Vale in the 1995 federal election.
Even though the bridge wasn't a federal responsibility, Mrs Vale campaigned heavily on the issue, saturating the Menai area with a leaflet headed, Who Scuttled the Woronora Bridge?
Sitting ALP Member Robert Tickner followed Mrs Vale's lead in urging the state government to build the bridge.
But, his efforts were too little, too late and Mr Tickner became one of Labor's biggest election casualties.
In November, 1997, after representations from Bulli MP Ian McManus and the council, now controlled by the Liberals, the Carr government began preparing for a policy switch.
Roads Minister Carl Scully announced a new environmental assessment of the bridge as part of a traffic study of the area.
But it took the bushfires, which ravaged Menai in December, 1997, to have the project fast-tracked.
While inspecting the devastation on December 3, 1997, Mr Carr announced work on the bridge would recommence and be finished by early 2000.
However, his promise was only for a $30 million bridge with one lane in each direction.
The Liberals seized on the fact that a bridge of this size was no longer adequate.
During the by-election for the seat of Sutherland a week before Christmas in 1997, the Liberals promised a four-lane bridge.
As a result, Liberal candidate Lorna Stone secured a big win.
In July, 1998, the government came to the party, with Mr Scully announcing the bridge would be upgraded to four lanes at a cost of $47 million.
Labor's new-found enthusiasm for the project was also influenced by new sate electoral boundaries, which created marginal electorates on both sides of Woronora River.
At the 1999 election, the ALP won both seats.
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