Couple lose $240k during bridge closure

'I knew right from day one we would take a hit'

JEREMY SMITH
Last updated 14:40 13/05/2014
cambridge bridge
Jeremy Smith/Fairfax NZ
MOVING ON: Cambridge Gas Alley owners Brian and Trish Hodgson are looking to re-gain some traction after the four-month closure of Victoria Bridge.
victoria st bridge
Kelly Hodel/Fairfax NZ
BACK IN BUSINESS: After opening to two-way traffic on Saturday afternoon, Cambridge drivers were making good use of Victoria Bridge in both directions on Monday morning.

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Cambridge Gas Alley owners Brian and Trish Hodges estimate they lost about $240,000 during the four months Victoria Bridge was closed for maintenance.

The couple say it has been ''the most difficult time'' they've had in almost 20 years running the business.

The bridge re-opened to two-way vehicular traffic on Saturday afternoon for the first time since a $1.1 million maintenance project - the most extensive in the bridge's 106-year history - began in January.

But only one side - the Cambridge to Leamington side - of the new footpath is open. The other is expected to be open within a week.

The Hodges, who own the petrol station nearest to the town entrance to the bridge, were hit especially hard by the closure.

Business had almost dried up during the closure, but on Monday, the couple noticed a boost in ''morning traffic'.

Between 6.30am and 9am they had about 100 cars through the forecourt, a marked increase on ''the maybe 12 to 15'' they were getting daily during the closure.

''I knew right from day one we would take a hit. Before the bridge was closed we were regularly getting between 60 and 70 vehicles,'' Brian Hodges said.

He was critical of the way it had been closed.

''Obviously, Waipa District Council should have consulted with the retailers as far as the way in which the bridge was closed. They did mention not being able to change the direction of the bridge from one direction in the morning to the other in the afternoon, but it's my opinion that I don't think SH1 would have been as badly affected as was suggested.''

The council could have met with retailers, not just the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce - and given us a say on what we thought would have been best for our businesses.''

Mr Hodges said while they never had to contemplate closing the doors, business owners who knew they would take a hit could have given council an idea at the start of the project as to what potential financial losses would have been.

''And then they could have taken that into consideration.''

Greg Wiechern, the project engineer overseeing the maintenance project, acknowledged Gas Alley would have been one of the hardest-hit businesses in town. 

Wiechern said there would have to be ''one or two'' night closures over the next week while ''finishing touches such as painting'' were completed on the bridge.

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''It was important to get the bridge open to two lanes of traffic again as soon as we could to keep to project time frames.''With the bridge open to vehicular traffic, half the new footpath was also getting use.

One couple using it was Russell and Pam Forster, who were walking across when the Cambridge Edition visited the bridge on Monday.

They have lived in Cambridge for 10 months since moving from Christchurch and see the maintenance as positive in the long term.

''We're retired,'' Pam Forster said, ''so yes, we are coming at it from a different side of the fence.''

''You don't think 40cm (the amount the footpath has been widened) would make much of a difference but it really has,'' her husband agreed.

''We walk across here pretty much every day and I think the work that has been done has been fantastic. It has made a big difference.''

- Waikato Times

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