It was a moment in history as the community walked across the new Batemans Bay Bridge for the first time on Saturday, March 27.
Walbunga elders acknowledged the new bridge during a welcome to country and suggested the bridge to be named: "Walawaani bridge" - a greeting in the Dhurga language, also meaning "safe journey".
The elders led the first walk over the 425-metre long bridge.
NSW Minister of Roads and Transport and Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, said the new bridge was the gateway to the region, allowing better traffic flow and access for emergency services who will no longer be cut off when the old bridge was raised.
"This is an absolute godsend for emergency services, it's an important access point for the region," he said.
He encouraged everyone to check out the three-metre wide walkway, open to pedestrians by Easter.
"Come and take a selfie, it will be the best spot," he said.
Mr Constance was impressed by the social outcomes of the $274 million project and thanked the leading construction company, John Holland.
Project manager Justin McCarthy greeted the community on Saturday with the John Holland and VSL team.
"It has been a big project, a massive bridge over the beautiful Clyde River," he said.
He said the biggest challenge was working in the marine environment, being mindful of the estuary populated with oyster farmers.
"There was a lot of marine work, big lifts and the manufacturing of segments at Mogo and transporting them to the Bay," he said.
After previously working big projects on the Pacific Highway, he was thrilled to take on the job at his hometown of Batemans Bay.
"It's really rewarding, when I heard about this job I was excited," he said.
To Justin, the most impressive feature of the balanced cantilever bridge was its 75-metre span - the distance between the two supporting structures.
Early work on the bridge started in October 2018, with major work beginning late February 2019.
The removal of the old bridge and upgrades to the public foreshore will start in April.
Urban design consultant, Kash Rangan, said it was a special sight to see the two bridges together before the old one was taken down. He shared some sketches.
Mr Rangan and the design team included a feature of the old bridge into the new design.
"The bridge shared path handrail is an important visual element and an opportunity to incorporate elements of the existing Batemans Bay Bridge into the new design," he said.
"A key feature is the shape of the handrail posts which reference the shape of the pylons of the lift span bridge."
After 9am, the public was welcomed to walk the bridge. About 2000 people crossed the bridge throughout the day.
It was a special moment for Betty Wales of Batemans Bay, who had memories of the old bridge opening in 1956. She now walked the new bridge with her daughter and granddaughter.
"I was six-years old; they had a great parade down the street with a band and lots of activities going on," Ms Wales said.
"I am a bit sad to see the old bridge go, but that's progress. I think this is a really nice looking bridge and we have a lovely view from up here."
Errol Ralston of Batemans Bay also had memories of the old bridge opening when he was 15.
"We all had our push bikes decorated with streamers, now here we are 60-odd years later walking over the new one," he said.
"I like the new bridge, but I still think we will get traffic jams at either end when you come off the bridge."
The bridge will open to traffic by Tuesday morning, March 30.
However, the path will not be open until safer access was built.
"Pedestrians and cyclists will continue to use the old bridge for a few days until temporary ramps are built across the closed highway to connect the new shared path with the existing shared path network," a Transport for NSW spokesperson said.
Did you know?
- The new Batemans Bay Bridge allows for uninterrupted access for boats up to 12 metres high.
- The bridge is 40 metres west of the existing bridge at the furthest point.
- 722,000 worker hours have been worked on the project.
- 30,000 tonnes of concrete have been used to construct the bridge.
- 2700 tonnes of Australian made reinforcing steel have been used.
- Indigenous workers represented 10-15 percent of the workforce during peak construction.
- Women made up nine percent of the workforce, nine times the state average for non-traditional roles in construction.
- Local workers represented 45 percent of the workforce during peak construction.