Bridge fix made a priority

TOO SCARY:  A truck manoeuvres over the infamously narrow Grove Rd bridge on State Highway 1 at the northern entrance to Blenheim.
TOO SCARY: A truck manoeuvres over the infamously narrow Grove Rd bridge on State Highway 1 at the northern entrance to Blenheim.

Having a bridge at the entrance of Blenheim where two trucks cannot pass each other is no longer acceptable, the Marlborough District Council says.

After years of debate about the narrow Grove Rd bridge over the Opawa River, councillors yesterday decided to take a strong stance on getting a second bridge built, rather than a bypass.

The town "definitely" wanted the traffic but not the "scary" bridge, where people felt nervous or unable to drive across if a truck was already on the bridge, they said.

Traffic often built up on State Highway 1 behind traffic stopped to enable a truck or campervan to cross the historic bridge first.

Blenheim man Darryn Thomas had asked councillors in a submission to the council's draft annual plan to do something about the bridge so it could take cars, trucks, and buses.

At the council's deliberations yesterday, Councillor Terry Sloan asked whether it was not time to push the issue harder.

"The squeaky wheel gets the oil. It depends how long we want to squeak."

As part of SH1, the bridge is under the control of the Government's New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

The council has fought, unsuccessfully, with NZTA for funding for other projects the community had wanted. In the case of the Battys Rd and Murphys Rd intersections with Middle Renwick Rd, part of State Highway 6, in Springlands, the council decided to go ahead with safety upgrades and is installing two roundabouts and other improvements at its own cost.

Councillor John Leggett said the NZTA had always argued the bridge was safe. It had a low accident rate, and therefore was not a priority.

"Besides, they like that it acts as a natural way of slowing traffic down at the entrance to Blenheim."

Long-time councillor Graeme Barsanti said the Grove Rd bridge issue had first come up about 30 years ago in the Blenheim Borough Council days, and it had been on the books with NZTA for the past 20.

"It's time this council decided. If Seddon can get a new bridge, we can."

Councillor Peter Jerram said the NZTA liked to say no to everything that was put up.

"Sometimes you need to grab things by the short hairs . . . The Awatere bridge got funding and this bridge has more traffic."

Councillor Jenny Andrews said it was "an attractive bridge, but scary".

"That scary bridge" was the memory people took from Marlborough, she said. Another lane needed to be added.

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said it was a "major thing" for the council to put the bridge on the agenda, but it was a unanimous decision by councillors to do so.

Options on what to do would be discussed by the council's assets and services committee later

The 170 metre-long Grove Rd bridge, with its eight equal arch trusses, was registered with the Historic Places Trust in 1990 and carries a category 1 classification. Construction of the bridge began in 1915 but because of World War I, the bridge was not completed until the end of 1917.

No significant modifications have been made to the bridge.

The first bridge over the Opawa River was built in 1869. However, it collapsed in 1878 and traffic was taken across the river by the nearby narrow railway bridge, by punt, or by fording when water levels were low enough.

The Marlborough Express