Securing Koala Survival: Appin Road Wildlife Crossings Fall Short, Urgent Need for Overpasses
Wednesday, January 24, 2024
In a recent announcement, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) unveiled plans for the long-awaited upgrade to Appin Road between Ambarvale and Mount Gilead, south of Campbelltown, a notorious stretch threatening the survival of the local koala population.
The long-awaited announcement of the approval for safety improvements to Appin Road is welcome. Minor changes to previously proposed designs for wildlife crossings directly respond to community concerns, scientific and expert advice.
Unfortunately, these changes do not go far enough to ensure the safe movement of wildlife across their habitat.
The Koala Haven at Risk
Campbelltown is home to Sydney's only chlamydia-free koala population, a rare positive for a species now listed as endangered and under threat of extinction by 2050 if the government does not do more to protect them.
However, the proposed road upgrade, bisecting critical habitat between the Nepean and Georges Rivers, poses a significant threat. The area's importance is underscored by the catastrophic toll on wildlife attempting to cross Appin Road. Over 30 koalas were lost in just over a year, amounting to approximately 10% of the local population.
Underpasses: A Dark Choice
Despite community concerns and expert advice, TfNSW's decision to approve long, dark underpasses is a cause for worry.
The longest of these reinforced concrete box culverts, adjacent to Noorumba Reserve, will be 53 metres in length, with this stretch of Appin Road widened to four-lane dual carriageway as part of the first phase of the road upgrade, which fails to address the need for safe wildlife movement and connectivity between crucial habitats.
In specifying underpasses, TfNSW has ignored the advice of WIRES, widely respected ecologists, and the wishes of the broader community.
A second shorter underpass was also approved to be built at Beulah, under the existing two lanes of Appin Road. These two underpasses will be long, dark single tunnels and the only means for wildlife to move across their habitat between the Nepean and Georges Rivers.
Overpasses vs. Land Bridges vs. Underpasses
The intent is to replace the 'temporary' underpass at Beulah when the second phase of road widening is undertaken. A 'land bridge' has been proposed as the replacement. A land bridge is an elevated section of road that is open to natural light and can more closely resemble the surrounding habitat.
A land bridge significantly improves the long and dark tunnels that TfNSW have approved. The decision to specify tunnels reflects that TfNSW has favoured expediency over wildlife-centred designs, which is repeatedly made clear through the Appin Road Upgrade, Mount Gilead to Ambarvale Addendum Review of Environmental Factors Submissions Report released in January 2024.
WIRES advocates for overpasses, citing their effectiveness in various locations globally. Overpasses are fit-for-purpose wildlife-centred designs that are more appropriate, known to be very effective and support an array of wildlife. Overpasses offer further improvements over land bridges, as land bridges provide significant enhancements over underpasses.
Overpasses are more inviting to wildlife, directly replicate habitat, are open to natural light, and provide safe means for a diversity of wildlife to move unhindered. An additional benefit is significantly reduced traffic sound impacts on wildlife.
Overpasses have been effectively installed at many locations in Australia and worldwide, representing best-practice wildlife-centred design. Cost-effective and wildlife-centred designs can and should be built on Appin Road. They can be built at the same locations as the approved underpasses, with minimal impacts on existing habitat and current road users.
Further, TfNSW has ignored repeated calls for an additional, ecologically important crossing adjacent to Mallaty Creek. Overpasses along Appin Road reflect the advice in the Chief Scientist's report on a crucial need to maintain the existing connectivity of habitat between the Nepean and Georges Rivers. This connectivity is essential to ensure the survivability of the local koala population.
The Urgent Need for Lower Speed Limits
WIRES advocates a multifaceted approach to mitigate the threat, including the call for lower speed limits on Appin Road. The current speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour is insufficient; a reduction to at least 70 kilometres per hour would be ideal, with a safe speed much closer to 50 kilometres per hour.
Lowering speed limits is a crucial and tangible step the government can take promptly to protect the koala population near Appin Road. This is an important measure that can be taken until other long-term mitigation strategies are fully implemented.
WIRES Volunteers Making a Difference
Amidst the surge in koala fatalities on Appin Road, it's crucial to recognise WIRES volunteers on the front lines. These individuals are the backbone of rescue and rehabilitation efforts. WIRES volunteers respond to distress calls, rescue injured koalas from the roadside, and provide critical care.
Their role extends beyond the immediate rescue – they endure the emotionally challenging task of recording road deaths and collecting bodies for transport to the Koala Health Hub for necropsy. Without their dedication, the staggering rate of koala deaths would remain unknown and unaddressed. The commitment of these volunteers brings attention to the urgency of the situation, shaping the ongoing efforts to safeguard one of the last healthy koala colonies in the state. Their efforts and work are instrumental in shedding light on the issue and driving collective action to protect these iconic Australian marsupials.
The Cost of Expediency
WIRES calls on TfNSW and the NSW government to put wildlife ahead of expediency in decision-making. Replacing the approved underpasses with overpasses on Appin Road is an essential first step. Further, approving an additional overpass adjacent to Malatty Creek is required to ensure the maintenance of wildlife corridors and the survival of the local koala population.
These fundamental changes reflect the chief scientists' advice, expert advice during the public consultation, and the broader community's wishes.
The decisions made in the Appin Road upgrade are pivotal in determining the future of the Campbelltown koala population. WIRES stands firm in its call for overpasses, championing wildlife-centric designs that align with expert advice and community aspirations. It's time to prioritise the survival of the koala population and safeguard the ecological balance for generations to come.
Take Action Now: Safeguard Koalas on Appin Road!
The urgency to protect our precious koalas on Appin Road cannot be overstated, and you can make a difference! Join WIRES in calling for immediate action by contacting John Graham, the Minister for Roads. Here's how you can contribute:
- Demand a Reduced Speed Limit: Contact Minister John Graham and insist on a lowered speed limit on Appin Road until proper wildlife crossings are implemented. The current speed limit of 80km is insufficient, and a reduction to at least 70km, with an ideal safe speed closer to 50km, is essential. Lowering speed limits is a tangible and immediate step towards safeguarding our koalas.
- Advocate for Overpasses, Not Underpasses: Urge Minister John Graham to reconsider the approved underpasses and instead implement overpasses. Overpasses are wildlife-centric, effective, and align with best practices globally. They provide a safer means for wildlife to move across their habitat, minimising the risk of fatal vehicle strikes. Your voice can influence this critical decision and improve our koalas' outcomes.
- Contact Your Local MP: If you're in the Campbelltown and Wollondilly area, contact your local Member of Parliament. Express your concerns about the alarming rate of koala deaths on Appin Road and emphasise the importance of immediate measures, including reduced speed limits and the replacement of underpasses with overpasses. Local support is crucial to amplify the call for wildlife protection.
- John Graham, Minister for Roads:
- [email protected]
Your Local MP for Campbelltown and Wollondilly:
Your voice matters, and your advocacy can help protect our koalas. Let's ensure that Appin Road becomes a safer passage for these iconic Australian marsupials.