RPS surveyors have been engaged on the major Bloomfield River Bridge project to prevent communities being completely cut off during Far North Queensland’s famous wet season, and also give a little peace of mind, by putting more distance between feet and croc in the worst flooding events!
The pre-stressed concrete all-weather bridge is specifically designed to maintain better access between the South side of the Bloomfield River and larger urban areas, especially Cooktown across the river even during flooding. Boasting six 19m long spans, 6m above the river bed on piled foundations, it is an impressive sight. It is part of the 30km Bloomfield Track connecting Cape Tribulation with Cooktown, and crosses the river near Wujal Wujal. The Bloomfield Track carries some 50-200 vehicles each day – over quarter of which are heavy vehicles. Stretching from Cairns to the northernmost tip of the Torres Strait, Far North Queensland is home to 26% of the state’s overall indigenous population. The region’s main activities are agriculture (livestock sugar cane and fruit) and bauxite and sand mining. The region’s stunning tropical landscapes and year-round warm climate make it a prime tourist trap and most of the track’s heavy traffic is from the tourism industry.
The crossing is surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest and some of the most beautiful wild river systems in the country. The Bloomfield River estuary is in near pristine conditions and home to around 12 large crocodiles, and the Bloomfield River Cod – both being protected species. May to October is usually hot and dry with low humidity but November to April, however (approximate) is the wet season – with high humidity and torrential rain. The Bloomfield River regularly floods during this time. The region is also especially prone to cyclones during the wet season. In 2011 the previous Bloomfield River Track crossing was destroyed by Cyclone Yasi. A temporary crossing was erected – with local communities expecting a permanent replacement in time for the next wet season, and many using personal boats or the passenger-only cross-river ferry service instead, and some crossing on the creek bed itself.
Ongoing conflicts of political and social interests around the track itself along with financial constraints have not made the realisation of the new permanent bridge an easy achievement but the wet season has been the major contender.
Construction preparation began in September 2013 and much of the construction of the bridge has taken place during considerable rainfall. ‘Brad’s Blog’ online notes water height at the crossing varying between .6 to .2 m lows and 3.6m highs over just a few days in the later wet season. The nearby crossing point was impassable by many vehicles at several points during the bridge’s construction and Croc Spotters were employed to watch out for crocodiles in the river and warn people from crossing during those times. Access to bring the bridge materials – pre-manufactured in the south of Queensland was only possible at certain points due to the rainfall damaging the highway as much as causing flooding: ‘Some of the potholes are a metre and a half across ... in places you have to gently walk your vehicle through ...[the] red soil on hills turn[s] to bog holes and are as slick as grease’ reports Brad’s Blog.
Local Journalist Mike D’Arcy writes that the Bloomfield Bridge project team has dealt with ‘shocking weather conditions and potentially inquisitive crocs’ to get the bridge to the current stage. He says: “This, seriously, has been epic. Frontiers of construction! They are local heroes and should be acknowledged as such."
‘The ‘Bloomfield Track’ carries approximately 50 - 200 vehicles per day. Heavy vehicles make up a high percentage of the traffic (approximately 25%), with the majority believed to be associated with the eco-tourism industry.’ Cairns Regional Council Agenda for Ordinary Meeting 24 April 2013. This document is concerned specifically with environmental impact and safety issues surrounding frequent use of the Woobadda Creek-bed crossing just south of the Bloomfield Track crossing. The Bloomfield Track is considered as the main highway infrastructure. Document is publicly available.