Mother welcomes demise of bridge where her son died in fatal crash video

The Normanby overbridge realignment project is almost complete.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

The Normanby overbridge realignment project is almost complete.

A grieving mother has not been able to drive over the Normanby overpass since her son died there in a crash in 2005.

Paul Cowper, 21, and two of his friends were killed when drink-driver Raymond Hansen ploughed into their van on the bridge in South Taranaki.

Since then Cowper's mother Angela Chamberlain has taken detours around the bridge every time she needed to drive north from her Hawera home - even when a passenger.

ANDY JACKSON/Stuff.co.nz

The Normanby over bridge realignment project is now open and nearing completion.

"I've tried not to look at it, it gives me the cold chills."

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A new road opened this week will now take Chamberlain and other motorists safely past the overbridge and a stretch of road where seven people have died and 12 others were seriously injured since 1995.

Angela Chamberlain at her son Paul's graveside in Hawera Cemetery. It is close to other  family members and the friends ...
Catherine Groenestein

Angela Chamberlain at her son Paul's graveside in Hawera Cemetery. It is close to other family members and the friends who also died in the crash at Normanby in 2005..

Chamberlain is relieved the bridge is now closed and will soon to be demolished. It's one more step towards closure for her family, she said.

"It's been a long time coming. Maybe I'll go down and watch them demolish it, I don't know. It's a good feeling, knowing there's not going to be any more tragedies."

Each time there was another accident at the bridge and each report on the project's progress had brought back painful reminders, she said.

Andy Beccard at the Normanby overpass. He fought for 20 years to see the closed to traffic.
Jared Smith

Andy Beccard at the Normanby overpass. He fought for 20 years to see the closed to traffic.

"It never goes away."

Her eldest son Jason, Paul's brother, was coming home from Australia for a visit soon, and would be happy to see the bridge gone, she said.

Chamberlain said she was grateful to South Taranaki District councillor Andy Beccard for his persistence in seeing the $11 million project happen.

Beccard, who helped at accident scenes in the years when he ran a garage at Normanby, was delighted to see the old structure redundant.

"It's fantastic. I've been pushing for many, many years to have it done. I'm absolutely delighted it has been done, its going to be huge." 

He said getting the road fixed was achieved by long-term teamwork.

"Chester Borrows was pushing it at the Government end. I kept it in the public eye and the Taranaki Daily News and the Taranaki Star also kept it in the public eye, it was a combined effort," he said.

"If you are persistent and keep knocking at the door, at some stage the door will open and you will get through."

MP for Whanganui Chester Borrows was rapt the new road was finally open. Borrows' said his campaigning for the bridge to be replaced began decades back, while he was a police officer in South and Central Taranaki.

"As anyone who has been involved with South Taranaki emergency services over the last 30 years knows, this bridge has seen too many injuries and fatal accidents. It took far too long, I am really pleased the Government has got it done."

However, anger over a funding turnaround in 2012, when the Taranaki Regional Council's regional transport committee gave New Plymouth's Waiwhakaiho Bridge higher priority, still rankled with both men, they said.

"I got really annoyed when Waiwhakaiho got priority, it was a frustrating bottleneck whereas Normanby was a horrific blackspot that had taken so many lives over the years, and we thought it was finally being dealt with," Borrows said.

Downer project manager Daryll Walker said local businesses and the community had been very supportive of the team working to create the new bypass. 

"We have worked hard to deliver the project as quickly as possible because we understand how important it is," he said.

"This new section is a major milestone in the project and when the realignment is complete [in early 2017] it will offer a much safer journey for the community with new passing lanes in both directions."

 - Stuff

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