THE WESTERN Australian government is planning to reconnect a severed highway using a barge system after a bridge was damaged in recent floods.

The weather event washed away parts of Great Northern Highway, a strategic freight link between Perth and the state’s north.

Earlier this month, Kimberley Ports Authority announced Port of Broome was receiving shipments of food supplies by barge while the road was cut. The supplies were bound for local supermarkets.

The state government intends to install a barge system across a river, as the Fitzroy Crossing Bridge has collapsed. The bridge is situated along a road leading into the Northern Territory.

The barge system is to initially be operated by tugs, with a cable system to be operationalised shortly after. It will be designed to adapt to low river levels using portable pontoons.

The system is to remain in place while the state’s main roads department constructs a low-level floodway crossing, which will provide a more permanent option while work continues to fully replace the Fitzroy Crossing Bridge.

Transport minister Rita Saffioti said the historic flooding event has caused significant disruption on the state’s road network.

“I want to commend Main Roads and its partner agencies for working as quickly as possible as they look to put in place temporary solutions that allow for the reconnection of the road,” she said.

“I also want to thank the community for their patience – we will work as fast as we can to implement these solutions but being in the middle of the wet season, there remains the possibility of significant rainfall events in the coming weeks and months which could disrupt works.”

Ms Saffioti said the government intends to work with community and industry, particularly transport operators, to ensure there is clear understanding of how the temporary barge option will operate.

Main Roads is assessing options for breakdown areas for trucks approaching the crossing.

“This will be the first time a barge system like this has been operated in this part of our state, so the final configuration and operation will depend largely on the conditions on the ground,” she said.

“Assessments of the existing bridge have been completed, and Main Roads has determined that given the significant damage, a full rebuild is the only feasible option.

“Importantly, we will be looking to work closely with Traditional Owner groups on key cultural heritage issues, and to ensure that out of this emergency, we are creating employment and training opportunities for the local Indigenous communities.”

The state government said the new bridge across the Fitzroy River will need to be higher and longer, and will be dual-lane, rather than the current single-lane bridge.

Also, the government said heavy machinery and a 40-person strong road reconstruction crew are carrying out repair works on the severely damaged section of the Great Northern Highway through Willare.

The crews are working from both ends of a damaged 10-kilometre section of the highway and will be putting in place temporary gravel roads to allow for the reconnection between Broome, Derby and Fitzroy Crossing.

It’s anticipated the works on the Willare section will take around four weeks to complete, with planning underway for a full road rebuild to begin in the dry season.