Bridge not only practical, but beautiful sculpture

By Mike Barrington

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Art is in the eye of the beholder and it's what Whangarei MP Phil Heatley saw when he watched Whangarei's new $32 million Lower Hatea River bridge move closer to completion yesterday.

"It's a magnificent piece of architecture," he said.

"Not only will it ease congestion through the city's CBD, but such a beautiful sculpture over a lovely river will be a significant attraction for Whangarei."

Mr Heatley and his wife Jenny were on site to see the two halves of the bascule (lifting platform) and the two lower sections of the big J-beams that will form the bridge's distinctive hook-like profile jacked into position.

Whangarei District Council group manager infrastructure and services Simon Weston said jacking about 240 tonnes of bascule across the 23m gap in the centre of the bridge happened smoothly.

"So much work went into preparing for this move we were surprised it took place so quickly," he said.

"There was a big sigh of relief when it went so well, then a feeling of elation that another big technical hurdle in the [bridge construction] project had been cleared."

The next step will be to hook up the hydraulic rams which will raise and lower the bascule. Mr Weston said that would probably happen next week.

Whangarei residents would see the bascule in action soon after as it had to be raised 50 times in its commissioning period to demonstrate it operated without problems.

Mr Weston said work left to do once the rams were working included finishing the track the bridge deck sits on, installing handrails, completing paintwork and sealing approach roads.

Everything was on target for the formal opening of the bridge on July 27, he said.

The Government is providing 14.9 million of the bridge's $32 million estimated final cost and Prime Minister John Key had been an early hope for cutting the ribbon which will start up to 8000 vehicles travelling across the bridge daily. However, Mr Heatley said he had been told neither Mr Key or Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee would be available to open the bridge.

And Mr Weston was not revealing yesterday who else might be considered.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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