Haste urged over 'skinny' Whakaruatapu Bridge plans

By Christine McKay

TOWERING STRUCTURE: The Whakaruatapu Bridge north of Dannevirke on State Highway 2. PHOTO/KEN HOUSTON
TOWERING STRUCTURE: The Whakaruatapu Bridge north of Dannevirke on State Highway 2. PHOTO/KEN HOUSTON

The New Zealand Transport Agency says suggestions the replacement of the Whakaruatapu Bridge, north of Dannevirke, is on hold are misleading.

David McGonigal, the regional state highways manager for the NZTA, told the Dannevirke News that while it is likely the bridge project will be included for the 2014-15 year, it will be subject to funding approval.

Makotuku farmer Jenny Kells has started a campaign to have the NZTA undertake the work this year, raising concerns about the safety of motorists using the bridge.

The bridge, described by Tararua district mayor Roly Ellis as "an accident waiting to happen," is very dangerous, Mrs Kells said.

Sally Rutgers said she shares concerns about the bridge, known locally as the skinny bridge.

"I've felt the same away about the Whakaruatapu Bridge for the past few years especially with my young, adult children making Napier to Palmerston North and Napier to Wellington trips," she said.

Mr McGonigal said the 87-year-old bridge is closer to replacement than ever before.

"The bridge on State Highway 2 is our top regional priority after the Saddle Rd and a replacement bridge has already been designed," he said.

"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.

"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."

He said all NZTA projects have to be prioritised.

TOWERING STRUCTURE: The Whakaruatapu Bridge north of Dannevirke on State Highway 2. PHOTO/KEN HOUSTON
TOWERING STRUCTURE: The Whakaruatapu Bridge north of Dannevirke on State Highway 2. PHOTO/KEN HOUSTON

"The reality is they can't be funded all at once because we're dependent on cashflow from the National Land Transport Fund.

"It is likely it will be included for the 2014-15 year, subject to funding approval," he said.

Local landowner Ken Houston said he believed most land required for the project had been purchased by the Crown, but his deal depends on him acquiring a small piece of land from the NZTA.

Mr McGonigal said the project had been designed and consented and remains a key feature of NZTA's 2012-15 funding programme.

"We recognise the bridge is regarded as a safety concern and we share these concerns, which is why we have progressed the bridge all the way through its pre-construction phases and are looking forward to a construction start in the near future," he said.

"Safety is a huge priority for the transport agency and we have acted decisively with a number of very recent major safety projects in the Tararua region and the NZTA's investment in new roading projects in the Tararua is at the highest levels in recent times."

Mr McGonigal said as well as agreeing to fully fund the upgrade of the Saddle Rd, the NZTA had also completed multi-million dollar safety upgrades of State Highway 2 at Corby Rd and Papatawa.

"The region's highway network is now safer than ever before," he said.

Safety concerns around the bridge had prompted Mrs Kells to launch a petition to speed up the progress of the replacement project.

"We shouldn't have to wait for someone to get killed before NZTA acts," she said.

While there have been a number of close calls, an accident in 2001 which saw a 72-year-old Waipawa woman flown to hospital after her car and a truck were involved in an accident at the bridge is one of the most serious.

Two cars had stopped at the bridge to give way to a cattle truck and trailer, but the driver of a third car was unable to stop and swerved into the path of an oncoming truck.

The truck crashed through a wire barrier on the side of the road and plunged down a 50m bank.

The driver was uninjured.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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