Cambridge's Victoria Bridge repairs causes traffic woes

Snarl-up: Traffic has been bumper to bumper along Cambridge’s Shakespeare and Cook streets this week due to the closure of the Victoria Bridge for repairs.
Snarl-up: Traffic has been bumper to bumper along Cambridge’s Shakespeare and Cook streets this week due to the closure of the Victoria Bridge for repairs.

Public pressure is mounting on the Waipa District Council to put the brakes on major traffic jams caused by maintenance work on Cambridge's Victoria Bridge - and the council says it will make a decision on changing traffic flows this week.

The estimated $1.1 million maintenance project - the most extensive and costly undertaken in the bridge's 106-year history - is set to take four months. During that time, the bridge will be open only to southbound traffic travelling from Cambridge to Leamington.

The problem worsened this week as more Cambridge schools came on stream. The town's only middle school and two high schools are on the Cambridge side of the bridge, meaning traffic is heavier and more time-sensitive in the morning.

When school went back on Monday, traffic was bumper-to-bumper for hundreds of metres - from the Cook St roundabout down Cook St towards Te Awamutu, and from the Ferguson Bridge, or low-level bridge, up Shakespeare St.

Business owners along Cook and Shakespeare streets, and motorists spoke of the measures they had taken to avoid the traffic and still arrive on time at schools and workplaces.

"I left very early; now I've been on the road for almost an hour," said one driver.

A parent taking children to school was also making slow progress: "This is just crazy, we're probably going to be late for the first day of school."

"I was supposed to be at a doctor's appointment half an hour ago," said another.

One local business owner, who did not want to be named, accepted the reasons for the bridge work but said there were other ways in which the traffic could be addressed.

"Why can't they have it so that the bridge is open one way heading into Cambridge in the morning and the other way to Leamington in the afternoon?"

They did not want the bridge work to adversely affect their business, but said customers had cancelled bookings because they did not want to brave the traffic, meaning daily client numbers were already down. "If people can't get here, things are going to have to be adjusted.

"If this continues for three months, I might as well close the doors."

Work on the four-month project centres around widening the bridge's footpaths, and strengthening the bridge's structure and drainage.

Cambridge Middle School principal Ross Tyson said they had already made a decision last week to start school earlier on Monday, the first day back, with a powhiri at the later time of 9am.

"There are so many flow-on effects and it's not a simple fix."

Cambridge High School deputy principal John McDonnell said traffic was a factor out of their control. His best advice was to leave as early as possible, and he sympathised with parents trying to get students to school, and bus companies which had school buses trying to adhere to timetables.

"We have a roll of about 1500 students and of those around 450 students are reliant on buses to get to school. Not all of them are from that side of town but that's nearly a quarter of our roll."

Waipa District Council roading corridor manager Dawn Inglis said the council had stationed "stop-go" personnel from Tuesday at the temporary roundabout at the Shakespeare St/State Highway 1 intersection in a bid to ease congestion.

"Partially closing the Victoria Bridge was always going to cause an issue; we ask people to be tolerant and patient while it calms down. We absolutely acknowledge that it's causing disruption and ask people to consider walking their children to school if possible, taking alternative routes, staggering work start times or considering car-pooling."

The council would continue to monitor traffic and was "actively considering" the option of changing the direction of traffic flow during the day. However, it would have cost implications because of the additional resource needed to manage changing traffic flows.

"We're concerned that having traffic flow in both directions but at different times could potentially make the situation worse. That's the last thing we need. We know the current delays are unacceptable and we are working hard to find a way to improve the situation."

Ms Inglis said any decision to change the current flows would be made later this week.