Opawa bridge dreams raised

Marlborough could have a multimillion-dollar new bridge over the Opawa River if Nelson and Tasman can be persuaded to back the project to improve freight journey times, the district council has been told.

A new funding system for Government road projects meant that projects had to compete nationally for funding, and needed to show that outcomes of the project fit with government goals, such as greater efficiency for shifting freight or meeting safety targets.

Otherwise, the only other way to get projects under way would be for councils to pay for them themselves.

In the case of the Grove Rd bridge, carrying State Highway 1 over the Opawa River could cost up to $5 million.

NZ Transport Agency regional manager Jenny Chetwynd told the Marlborough District Council's regional transport committee last Friday that regions "holding hands" were likely to get approval for projects that crossed several districts with "a journey" being improved.

"It's a move from: ‘I want my bridge fixed' to looking at the whole journey'," she said.

For Marlborough, that meant showing how something could improve the top of the south, working with Nelson and Tasman, or in the case of State Highway 1, working with Kaikoura and other Canterbury councils to show how the movement of freight from Picton south could be improved.

Previously, the district was allocated $20 million a year. But the system was changing so that the best projects nationally got funding, and councils had to work together to show how their project stacked up best.

Transport committee chairman Terry Sloan said there was "no lack of will" in the council to fix the Grove Rd bridge at the northern entrance to Blenheim.

That meant opting for a second bridge, at a cost of between $3m and $5m, rather than a bypass of Blenheim through Grovetown and Riverlands.

"I think the bypass is pretty much out of the question. We'd be looking at $100m for the full deal."

Analysis showed only 25 per cent of traffic down Grove Rd was from out of Marlborough, he said.

"The bypass is not as much benefit as you might think."

More work needed to be done to assess congestion and freight traffic and then various options discussed, before the council would know which direction to go in, he said.

"The new strategy of working with neighbouring regions leaves it up for further discussion. Funding is not just locally, but regionally, which makes it a bit frustrating. "That restructuring of funding is probably the last thing we need right now."

The Grove Rd bridge is too small for two trucks to pass each other, and many motorists treat it as a one-way bridge if a truck or campervan is coming the other way, and they stop to let it pass.

Councillors decided during hearings on the draft annual plan earlier 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.

Marlborough Roads highway manager Frank Porter 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 .

Porter said there had been no fatalities and few serious injuries on the bridge, and its main problem was its narrowness.

The Marlborough Express