Dannevirke: People power helps to replace 'skinny bridge'

By Christine McKay -
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The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) will be putting out tenders for the replacement of Matamau's Whakaruatapu Bridge, known locally as the skinny bridge, in a couple of weeks' time. Photo/Christine McKay
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) will be putting out tenders for the replacement of Matamau's Whakaruatapu Bridge, known locally as the skinny bridge, in a couple of weeks' time. Photo/Christine McKay

Matamau's Whakaruatapu Bridge has been a nightmare for many motorists but now, after years of frustration and anger, the power of the people will see work begin on a replacement as early as July or August.

Tararua District mayor Roly Ellis met with David McGonigal, the NZTA regional state highways manager, and Ross I'Anson, the principal investment adviser for the NZTA, on Tuesday and was told tenders were to go out for the project in the next couple of weeks.

"It's been a long haul for years and it's just sheer perseverance which has got us here today," Mr Ellis said.

The battle to replace the bridge, known locally as the skinny bridge, has been going on for more than 19 years, but finally Makotuku farmer Jenny Kells had had enough and organised a petition which gathered 1370 signatures.

"Somebody had to do something," she said.

Mrs Kells said she believed someone would be killed before anything was done about the bridge, labelled by many as a "ticking time bomb".

"We all knew that one day they (NZTA) were going to replace the bridge with a large culvert and the road would be wider and safer, but the issue was when," she said.

Early work, 16 years ago by Transit New Zealand, saw the bank cut away and the cemetery moved back from the road so the work could begin, but Mrs Kells said she was frustrated when it appeared the project was put on the back burner.

"This is State Highway 2 and heaven only knows how many near misses there have been when people have stopped to let trucks cross the bridge and then have almost been rear-ended," she said.

"You just need to look at the skid marks.

"But news the project is going ahead is wonderful. Cor blimey, I'm thrilled."

Mr Ellis said he'd shared Mrs Kells frustration.

"I think this project is now going ahead is down to the fact we just kept on bringing the issue up," he said.

"I've got to thank Jenny (Kells) for all she did getting the petition together. This project has been on and off for the last 19 years and it's not just locals who signed the petition, truck drivers using the state highway have as well."

Mr Ellis said the money for the work had been signed off.

"All going well, we should see the work beginning in July or August," he said.

"However, at this stage we can't say how long the project will take."

Mr McGonigal had previously told the Dannevirke News, the bridge was a top regional priority after the Saddle Rd and a replacement bridge had already been designed.

"The design will widen the road and direct the stream through a culvert underneath, with the effect being motorists will hardly know they are travelling across a stream," he said. "It's more than just replacing the bridge, it's a 1.7km project which will also improve the safety of the approaches to the bridge."

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