Govt fixes bridge, then replaces it

The Government has almost finished a $100,000 project to strengthen a bridge it will now tear down and replace as part of its new roading package.

Prime Minister John Key unveiled the Government's $212 million roading package at the party's annual conference in Wellington at the weekend. It includes the replacement of the one-lane Motu Bridge between Gisborne and Opotiki.

Strengthening of the bridge, which the Government says will open it up to bigger trucks, began in April and is due to be finished in the next fortnight.

The work was costed at $100,000, former Gisborne District councillor Manu Caddie said.

The project should not have been a priority, he said.

The bridge had only 900 vehicle movements a day and its being one-way was not a major inconvenience.

"They've just spent 100 grand to futureproof it for 25 years," Caddie said.

"Even the local industry people here are saying that it's not an issue for them, they don't ever have to wait on that bridge and there's never been an accident on it so they'd rather see the money going into other priorities."

The $3m to $5m cost to replace the bridge, with construction due to start next year, was a "massive investment while there's other more pressing priorities in the region".

"I'd be surprised if it gets many votes because I think locals would say that SH35 [around the East Cape], the condition of that road is a much higher priority."

Projects on that road, which the Government also announced it would build more slow vehicle bays on, had been under way for 10 years, Caddie said.

Gisborne District Council and the NZ Transport Agency were in the process of identifying which local projects should be prioritised before putting those decisions out for consultation.

"And this decision has undermined that process," he said.


Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon welcomed the projects, but admitted the money spent on the strengthening had been wasted.

"Now they can throw that money in the drain and get a new bridge."

Good roads were of huge importance to the region, which was expecting more heavy traffic as industries such as forestry picked up, Foon said.

The widening was "going to help tremendously in traffic flows and with all the road improvements it's got to help with productivity as well".

The Gisborne District Council had been lobbying for the projects to be picked up but the NZTA had not seen them as a priority until now, he said.

Councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown, a member of the regional transport committee, was also critical of the decision.  The Government should have waited for the local prioritisation process to be completed, she said.

"I can understand the Government wants to be seen to throw some sweets to the regions, but I think we have other projects that need funding before these ones," Akuhata-Brown said.

"It really makes a mockery of the process council and NZTA has organised that includes a series of workshops with representatives from the transport sector, community, council and government agencies. What we come up with is supposed to then be checked with the public before being confirmed.

"The announcements yesterday undermines whatever the outcomes of that process are." 

There was also no evidence that the Motu Bridge was dangerous, she said.

It was particularly frustrating that the Government had found the money to spend on "random projects" after refusing to help restore the railway line to Napier, she said.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee denied in a statement that the bridge strengthening had been a waste of taxpayer funding.

"The current one-lane Motu Bridge is a chokepoint for vehicles travelling north from Gisborne, and has required a lot of maintenance in order to keep it functioning," Brownlee said.

The $100,000 upgrade would pay "instant dividends" for the local economy, by opening it up to heavy truck and trailer units until construction of the new bridge was completed - expected to be in 2018.

This would mean larger trucks carrying larger loads and making fewer trips.

"All the projects in the package announced yesterday have been signalled by local governments as high priority for a number of years," he said.

An NZTA spokesman said there were no plans in its three-year programme to replace the bridge, though the agency was aware of some desire within the local community for a second lane to be added. The strengthening work had been combined with regular maintenance."In the meantime, the strengthening work will ensure a secure, resilient bridge and will pay instant dividends for the local economy."

Key said the roading programme recognised a lot of money had been spent on roads in main centres and that infrastructure needed to be built in the regions.