Urgent call over bridges

Steven Joyce
Steven Joyce
Plans for new bridges across the Waitaki River needed to be speeded up, the Waitaki District Council's committee of the whole said yesterday, recommending urgent representations be made to Transport Minister Steven Joyce to have them built.

Two new two-lane bridges, estimated to cost $15 million, are timetabled for construction next year and completion in 2014.

They will replace the 129-year-old single-lane bridges, which are closed because of damage to at least one pier from flooding.

However, the new bridges do not yet have resource consents or funding approved.

Yesterday, the committee recommended the council, at its meeting on March 8, make an urgent representation, in conjunction with the Waimate District Council, to Mr Joyce to have the bridges at Kurow replaced.

A public meeting at Hakataramea on Sunday, attended by about 250 people, unanimously called on Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean and the Waitaki and Waimate District Councils to liaise urgently with Mr Joyce about building the new bridges.

Waitaki deputy mayor Jim Hopkins, who was at that meeting, yesterday told the committee the state of the existing bridges could not be assessed until the river fell to 500cumecs, but money was available for repairs.

Yesterday, the river was flowing at about 900cumecs.

There was no guarantee of funding for the new bridges, he said.

Cr Hopkins said the bridges at Kurow were both regionally and nationally significant because they were the detour for SH1 when it was closed by flooding or accidents.

Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton said the timetable for the new bridges was "not good enough". Closure of the bridges cut a cohesive community in half, he said.

Strength testing of the bridges is expected to be done tomorrow, which will allow a decision to be made on when they can reopen.

The New Zealand Transport Agency understood the hardship and inconvenience the closures were causing residents and businesses, and it had been working "around the clock" to find a solution, area manager Colin Hey said.

The agency's bridge consultant was now confident the bridge structure could be safely tested.

Results of a hydrological survey late last week confirmed the localised scouring around a pier on the northern bridge had begun to fill in again. Meridian Energy was also confident river flows could be returned to normal during the next 48 hours.

Decisions on a date for reopening, and any ongoing restrictions, would hinge on the results of the proof-loading tests, which were expected to be available on Friday.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz


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