Sod-turning ceremony to celebrate new bridges

The construction of two bridges across the Waitaki River linking Hakataramea and Kurow will have a traditional start next month.

A sod-turning ceremony has been organised by the New Zealand Transport Agency for the two communities to celebrate the start of the $18.5 million project on SH82.

The new two-lane concrete bridges, with provision for cyclists and pedestrians separated from traffic, will replace single-lane wooden bridges which are 132 years old.

The ceremony, on March 7 at 11.30am on the island recreational reserve between the two bridges, is traditionally held to herald the start of a major construction project.

It will involve Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean. Waimate Mayor John Coles and Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton, along with the agency's southern regional director, Jim Harland, and New Zealand's general manager of contractor McConnell Dowell Constructors Ltd, Roger McRae.

Mr Harland said the bridges were a significant lifeline for the community and it was fitting the community shared in the celebration to begin their construction, which would provide the community with a more secure, safer route.

''The ageing bridges opened in 1881 and have reached the end of their life.

''They are vulnerable to closure during peak river flows with the spilling of the hydro dams and unable to carry over-sized agricultural machinery which is critical for the prosperity of this largely rural community,'' he said.

McConnell Dowell will move on site early next month to begin construction of the bridges, which are expected to open in late 2014.