Kopu stranded on road to nowhere

By Nikki Preston, James Ihaka


Guy Robinson admits to rubbing his hands gleefully in the days when queues of cars stretched for kilometres either side of the old Kopu Bridge.


"It was good for us but we weren't always guaranteed because people didn't want to lose their place in the queue," said Mr Robinson, who has owned the Roadhouse Cafe in Kopu for three years.


Mr Robinson's eatery on Kopu Rd specialises in seafood and steaks, but the opening of the new Kopu Bridge and its roading system means customers now miss him and other local businesses as they bypass the small settlement on their way to for the Coromandel Peninsula beaches.


The $40 million Kopu Bridge, which opened in December 2011, is a godsend for holiday-bound motorists used to long waits, sometimes of more than two hours, to cross the old one-lane bridge.


But it has come at a cost. Mr Robinson blames a lack of road signs for a near 60 per cent drop in customer numbers compared with the same time last year.


"It's pretty bad - the change in the roading structure means people aren't driving past any more."


Mr Robinson said that despite the bridge being finished, a slipway off SH25 to Kopu was not completed properly, meaning Kopu Rd "is basically a one-way road".


Gary Brunt, who runs the Thorold Country House, a Kopu bed-and-breakfast establishment, said at least 30 businesses in the settlement had been affected by the changes.


The new road layout was good for his business because the area was quieter but he said units in the area that housed businesses last year were now vacant.


"What the local businesses want to do is to erect a big board before the bridge to tell people there are all these businesses there, something that shows what can be seen by taking the slip road," he said.


"I think that's what they would like to try to do."


Transport Agency officials could not be reached for comment but the Mayor of the Thames Coromandel District Council, Glenn Leach, said signage issues with Kopu stemmed back to before the new bridge was given the all-clear to proceed.


"We've done everything we can do to try to stimulate getting signage on the Kopu settlement but other than hitting NZTA, there's not a lot we can do," he said.


"I'm not happy with it, I think it's a bloody disgrace ... all the issues pertaining to it should have been sorted before the first spade was put in the ground, not just left until later so they need to get more consents and deal with NZTA all over again - it's bureaucracy at its worst."


Mr Leach agreed Kopu businesses were hurting, but said the new bridge and road layout were a necessity.


The issue of major roads skirting small settlements was not a new one - Pokeno on State Highway 1 had also been a victim.


"Somewhere along the line the benefit of all is better than the benefit of the few. But the issue with the Kopu Bridge was everyone knew it was going to happen.


"All these issues should have been solved before final consents were given and we wouldn't have the debacle we've got."


Lack of cash puts bridge future in doubt


A lack of cash to retain the Kopu Bridge could stand in the way of preserving New Zealand's only remaining swing-span bridge.


The Save Kopu Bridge lobby group is making a final attempt to present a convincing business case to the NZ Transport Agency to keep the bridge open as a cycle and pedestrian track and save it from demolition.


Under the proposal, the bridge would open for boats when required.


The Transport Agency is also working with Coromandel businessman Barry Brickell, of Driving Creek Railway fame, who proposed permanently opening the span of the Kopu Bridge and building an elevated pedestrian walkway across the two spans so people could walk across.


"It's ridiculous to even think of trying to save it in its present form. It costs millions," Mr Brickell said.


The agency received 19 responses to its request for expressions of interest at the end of October.


Eight supported the re-use of the bridge and 11 wanted it demolished as it became redundant when the new $40 million two-lane bridge opened in December 2011.


The new bridge has speeded traffic flows on the road to Coromandel hot spots over the busy holiday periods.


Save Kopu Bridge spokesman Gary Blake said the group had been told plans to demolish the bridge and move key elements such as the swing span and pilot house on land along the Hauraki or Seabird rail trails would start from June if their business case was unsuccessful.


Mr Blake was pleased the Transport Agency had eliminated simply bulldozing the bridge and said it was a "small victory" that the Bridge Feature Museum was now being touted as the "worst case scenario".


Save Kopu Bridge, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Institution of Professional Engineers were all committed to finding ways to keep it as a working bridge, he said.


The group was also querying estimates that it would cost $5 million to $6 million to bring the bridge up to working order, which had included increasing the height of the rail bars.


Thames-Coromandel Mayor Glenn Leach said his council's preference was a land-based monument, but it would support the retention of a functioning bridge provided it did not cost ratepayers.


Transport Agency state highway manager Kaye Clark said the agency wanted to explore all options and give any groups wanting to preserve the bridge enough time to secure the necessary funding.

- Hamilton News

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