NZTA awards contract for bridge

The contract for a controversial replacement for the Kawarau Falls Bridge near Queenstown has been awarded.

The NZ Transport Agency announced yesterday that Auckland-based McConnell Dowell Constructors will design and build the two-lane bridge immediately downstream of the existing bridge at a cost of $21.9million.

Construction will begin at the end of the year, and is expected to be completed by the winter of 2017.

It will replace the ramshackle one-lane bridge controlled by traffic lights which often leads to traffic jams on the State Highway 6 route into the resort. Fast-tracked by the Government in an election pledge last June, the project has stirred controversy.

A group of residents has spent all year lobbying to have the bridge built about 2km downstream to relieve congestion in Frankton. They took their fight all the way to Transport Minister Simon Bridges, who told them in a conference call last month that the project not only stacked up economically, but was ''very much about runs on the board now prior to - if we can be very blunt about it - the 2017 election''.

Agency senior project engineer Phil Dowsett said the new bridge would eliminate delays and improve the resilience of the state highway link from Queenstown to Southland and Milford Sound.

The company would work on the bridge's design with Wellington firm Novare Design. A proposed design prepared for the bridge's resource consent application specifies a curving, 250m-long, 14m-wide structure. Last month, McConnell Dowell won an award for excellence in civil construction for its work on the $20.1 million Waitaki bridges replacement project, which it completed in June.

The existing bridge, built in 1924 in a failed attempt to control the river flow for gold mining, is a category 1 listed historic place.

As part of the contract, McConnell Dowell will refurbish the old bridge as a link in the walking and cycling route on the Queenstown Trails network.

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