Bridge on 'shaky ground'

Inspecting the aging Albert Town bridge is (left) Albert Town resident Bruce Hebbard and Albert...
Inspecting the aging Albert Town bridge is (left) Albert Town resident Bruce Hebbard and Albert Town Community Association chairman Jim Cowie. Photo: Simon Henderson
Albert Town bridge is an "earthquake disaster waiting to happen", the Albert Town Community Association says.

Chairman Jim Cowie said the bridge dated from 1930 and was on "very, very shaky ground".

"Given its age, it really is past its useby date, both from a civil disaster point of view, and from an increasing traffic point of view."

If there was a major earthquake in the area "people would be isolated for long periods of time".

"That bridge will drop out when the Alpine Fault goes."

But the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) was not planning to replace it, Mr Cowie said.

"I've been told by local officials here that NZTA is just reluctant to really consider where the bridge fits in terms of bridge replacements on an ever-growing list around the country."

He welcomed an announcement by NZTA last week that permanent traffic signals were to be installed at the bridge, which would be adaptable to traffic demands.

But a new two-lane bridge was the real solution given the increase in development and activity in the region.

"I have friends who live in Hawea and they are getting increasingly frustrated," Mr Cowie said.

"It is a problem that is only going to get worse and worse."

The bridge was "an earthquake disaster waiting to happen".

Albert Town resident Bruce Hebbard said he could see the bridge from his house and there was always traffic on the road, "even at 2am in the morning".

"In fact, we sort of make a comment if we don't see any cars."

With a lot more people living in Hawea and more tourists using the road, the amount of traffic was "huge".

Retired civil engineer Rod MacLeod, of Albert Town, said he was concerned there was no move to replace the bridge, which he thought was an essential step.

The bridge was constructed on piles that went into "layers of gravel and very weak silty material".

The bridge would be "a write-off" after any substantial earthquake, Mr MacLeod said.

Putting in a new bridge would be able to make use of modern seismic design and construction, and he was surprised the Queenstown Lakes District Council was not "pushing harder to get funding for a replacement".

Project Alpine Fault Magnitude 8 (AF8) science lead Dr Caroline Orchiston said the bridge was an important transport asset because it enabled the flow of residents from Hawea to Wanaka and also the flow of transients or tourists from the West Coast and Lindis Pass to and from Wanaka and Queenstown.

AF8 was a project that aimed to plan and prepare a co-ordinated response across the South Island after a severe earthquake on the Alpine Fault.

One issue the AF8 team had identified was the South Island relied heavily on a transport network which had very few alternatives if one particular section was damaged and out of use for a period of time.

"As a result, there are many vulnerable parts of the network that have the potential to isolate communities around the Southern Alps," Dr Orchiston said.

NZTA senior network manager John Jarvis said all state highway bridges in New Zealand went through a seismic screening process in 2001.

"As a result of this screening, no further detailed seismic assessment was deemed necessary for the Albert Town bridge."

No major issues had been identified during regular inspections of the bridge.

Due mainly to a high crash rate, investigations were carried out in 2005 which included options to widen the bridge to two lanes.

There were no plans to widen or replace the existing bridge, but it was identified by the regional transport committees in the 2018 Otago Southland regional land transport plan as a project it would like developed in the next plan for 2021-22 to 2027-28, Mr Jarvis said.

A QLDC spokeswoman said NZTA was entirely responsible for funding the Albert Town bridge as it was on the NZTA network.

"It will be included in the investigations under way as part of the integrated transport programme business case."


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