10 May 2023

Is it time to build a bridge over the Jardine River?

| Matt Nicholls
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Tourists and locals have been forced to wait for several hours – in some cases overnight – to get across the Jardine River as traffic numbers rise as a result of a record tourism year.

The debate over whether to build a bridge has been a divisive subject for years.

There are several camps with differing opinions on the matter – locals who want the bridge to give them 24/7 access out of the Northern Peninsula Area; locals who are concerned about a bigger influx of tourists; tourists who don’t want to pay $100 and queue for hours; and tourists who love the iconic nature of the Jardine River ferry.

Bully Sanders from Cape York Ice and Tackle said he could see both sides of the argument.

“There would be positives and negatives,” he said.

“I can see both sides of it. It would be good for freight, but we (the community) might lose a lot of money (from the ferry’s income).”

Mr Sanders said the advantages of a bridge to bring in more road freight could benefit the Northern Peninsula Area businesses and create economic opportunities.

The issue will raise its head next week when Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch will meet with NPARC councillors and staff to discuss issues in the region.

The federal MP has been vocal about the need for a bridge across the Jardine River for many years and hopes the new council will give the project the green light.

There is a $10 million commitment from the federal government to go towards the construction of a bridge.

That won’t be enough to get the job done, but it’s a start, considering it would likely be a state government project.

“I’m seriously concerned about the decision that was made recently to talk about a second ferry,” Mr Entsch said.

“If they are serious about that then there is absolutely no value in a bridge.

“We’ve got people waiting hours in line to get across the river. In some cases, the wait time has been longer than the drive time from Weipa to the Jardine.”

Patsy Lennox from Loyalty Beach Camp Ground said a bridge made sense for both locals and tourists.

“Build a bridge,” she said immediately when asked her preference.

“I think the long waits this tourist season has shown that we need a bridge.

“More and more road is getting sealed and that means more traffic, which means that the wait times will only get longer.

“The barge has broken down three times this year, which has meant for some really long wait times.”

Ms Lennox said her business and most others in the NPA were enjoying a bumper tourist season.

“We’ve had a few big cancellations because of the COVID in Sydney but it’s been very good,” she said.

Mr Entsch said building a bridge over the Jardine River would create enough economic growth and jobs in the NPA to replace the money and jobs lost from the closure of the ferry.

“Locals need to be asking where the money goes from the ferry anyway,” he said.

“What can they show that has been a serious benefit to the local community.

“The federal and state governments are working to seal the road to Weipa and there’ll be a time when we start on more sections of the Bamaga Road.

“There’s no way it’ll keep getting sealed if you get to the Jardine River and have to wait half a day to get across.”

The veteran MP conceded it was a decision for the council, though.

“The reality is that it’s up to this council to decide,” he said.

“If they don’t want it, there’s no way it will happen.

“But I’ll be encouraging them to look at the bigger picture and what the future might look like with a sealed road and a bridge all the way to Cairns.

“There’s enormous potential for the cost of freight to come down, for growth in jobs and tourism opportunities, and a raft of other benefits.

“Seisia could be a distribution point for freight for all of the Torres Strait to reduce their costs as well.”

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