FURTHER rainfall in Western Australia has delayed the construction of a river barge being built to reconnect the Great Western Highway.

The state government is moving ahead with a staged reopening of the highway after floods in January damaged roads and caused the Fitzroy Crossing Bridge to collapse.

The Great Northern Highway is a strategic freight route between Perth and the state’s north. Port of Broome received shipments of supplies for Kimberley communities while the highway was closed.

The WA government said on Monday (6 February) it is continuing its work at Fitzroy Crossing to install the temporary barge system, but recent rainfall and rising river levels have hampered construction.

However, it said works have started on new landing foundations on the eastern side of the river in preparation for an initial punt service commencing once river heights reduce to a safe level.

The government is also planning for a low-level crossing to provide a more permanent option while a new Fitzroy Crossing Bridge is constructed.

It said it is fast-tracking procurement for the full replacement of the Fitzroy Crossing Bridge, and it plans to award a contract in the coming weeks.

Along the rest of the highway, a road construction crew is expected to finish critical, temporary repair works on a section of highway between Broome and Derby this week.

The temporary, single-lane gravel track will allow for the staged reopening, reconnecting Broome, Derby and Fitzroy Crossing by road for the first time since the floods.

Other temporary arrangements are in place for road users, such as scheduled convoys, controlled access points, wait times and reduced speed limits.

Crews plan to monitor the weather and road conditions and implement short-term closures if unsealed conditions deteriorate due to further rainfall.

Transport minister Rita Saffioti said the floods have had a “devastating impact” and have restricted connectivity in the Kimberley region.

“I want to thank Main Roads and the hard-working road construction teams who have been out there working most days in some really challenging wet season conditions to get this temporary track completed in less than four weeks,” she said.

“Seeing the early vision of the floods and the scale of damage that was sustained to the road infrastructure, it’s an incredible achievement to be able to open up the highway in a limited capacity this quickly.

“I’d also like to thank the community for their patience and understanding as we continue work on restoring road access in the region.”

And Kimberley MLA Divina D’Anna said the road construction crews had done a great job in “testing conditions” to reconnect the Great Northern Highway.

“This staged reopening will allow movement of critical freight and local community members between Broome, Derby and Fitzroy Crossing for the first time since the floods,” she said.

“Pending weather conditions, we expect that within the next few weeks the second lane of the temporary gravel track will have finished construction, allowing traffic to move more freely.”