New bridge pledge by PM

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 08:38 30/06/2014
Alex Williams
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

TALKING NUMBERS: Key yesterday revealed $212M would be spent on roading projects across the country. The work would include a new bridge across the Opawa River at the entrance to Blenheim.

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A new bridge across the Opawa River and a replacement one across the Wairau River could be built within three years, Prime Minister John Key said yesterday.

Key told the National Party's election year annual meeting in Wellington that $212 million from the Future Investment Fund would be spent on a package of 14 regionally important State highway projects. Part of that was an extra $115m to fund six projects, including bridges for State Highway 1 across the Opawa and Wairau rivers.

The Opawa River bridge, which leads to Grove Rd at the northern entrance to Blenheim, is almost 100 years old and is not wide enough for two trucks to pass each other. The Marlborough District Council agreed last month, while considering its draft Annual Plan, to push for a second bridge.

The Wairau River bridge is understood to be at risk of failing in a serious earthquake and if there was a big flood of the river, the bank under one end of the bridge's supports could be scoured away.

Key said that "subject to the usual investigations" construction would be expected to begin within three years on each of the six projects, including the Marlborough ones.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that by directly funding some of the most crucial state highway improvements, the Government was freeing up more funding in the regional improvements activity class for other priority projects.

"This funding package also strongly complements the Government's Roads of National Significance programme, ensuring people and freight reach their destinations quickly and safely."

Key said each roading project was important because it made the road safer, helped the region be more productive or improved the way the roading network operated.

"Local councils, local media and the public have long highlighted their importance . . . Until today, there was no guarantee these projects would be funded in the foreseeable future. We are providing that certainty."

Kaikoura MP Colin King said the announcement was good news, "given the risk factors to drivers confronted by oncoming traffic".

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said the decision would be applauded by everyone who drove between Blenheim and Picton. "It's great news for Marlborough to know that we're going to get action on two vital links within our roading network that both need significant improvements."

He said while they did not yet have the details, he imagined a second bridge would be built over the Opawa, leaving the existing bridge in place.

"We've been regularly raising the Grove Rd bridge issue with NZTA over the years but we have always been aware that it hadn't been rated as an urgent matter. However, things can change and it's terrific that the long-running challenge of improving the northern entrance to Blenheim is now going to be addressed."

In terms of the Wairau Bridge, the mayor said the council had been made aware recently that NZTA had identified the bridge as requiring some major work.

"So I'm pleased to see a quick decision made to fund this work as we know all too well that the Wairau River in full flood is a ferocious force."

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Council regional transport committee chairman Terry Sloan said he was "over the moon" at the "fantastic" news.

He said he hoped the council could be involved in the design phase, and hopefully incorporate something that would make an entry statement as well.

Many motorists treat the narrow Grove Rd bridge as one-way if a truck or campervan is coming the other way, and stop to let it pass.

Councillors decided during hearings on the draft annual plan this month to "push harder" for a fix to the "scary" bridge, saying it was time to take a strong stance after years of debate.

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

The New Zealand Transport Agency said having a bridge on State Highway 1 at the entrance to Blenheim where two trucks could not pass each other was "not ideal", but there was no cheap fix.

There had been no fatalities and few serious injuries on the bridge, and its main problem was its narrowness. Agency data showed there had been six minor injuries from five crashes, and 24 non-injury crashes in the past 10 years, with no serious or fatal crashes. In the past seven years, there had been no recorded instances of delays longer than 20 minutes.

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

- The Marlborough Express

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