A $1.6 million pedestrian and cycling overbridge across State Highway 29 Takitimu Dr in Tauranga has been officially opened and blessed.
A blue ribbon hung across the Whakapaewaka Bridge was ceremoniously cut this morning by Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless and Parekawhia McLean, New Zealand Transport Agency director of regional relationships for central North Island.
The name Whakapaewaka comes from local mana whenua and refers to a trail used by Māori in the 19th century. It also refers to wellbeing and safe travel.
A blessing of the bridge this morning was led by kaumātua Tamati Tata.
Project manager Gareth John said the new bridge would provide a connection for what was a severed link and get people into the Kopurererua Valley, "the jewel in the crown for Tauranga from an open-space perspective".
It was also designed for school kids, he said.
"It's good to see that this is a nice, safe passage for school kids to get to and from this side of the highway but it's really part of that promotion of multi-modal transport, getting people on bikes and walking and getting them out of cars."
The project took 18 months to complete from the start of the design process.
John said that was a relatively quick timeframe when factoring in the consenting process and consultation with iwi and the transport agency.
The bridge was part of an Urban Cycleways Programme project jointly funded by the Government, the transport agency and the Tauranga City Council.
The budget for the bridge itself was about $1.6m and the overall project budget – which included another bridge on Wylie St, cycle track upgrades and culvert upgrades – was about $3m.
John said the overall project was delivered on budget, but the council did spend some extra money improving the existing cycle network to provide greater links between Cambridge Park and up through to Wylie St.
"We did bring forward some value adding to the existing cycle network, that's probably taken it up a bit. It's a good looking bridge that is hopefully going to be well used by the community."
Tauranga City Council transportation manager Martin Parkes said the opening of the bridge was a key milestone in the council's plans for walking and cycling.
"It gets the momentum going; this is the project that launches the bigger cycle network across the city where we're going to hopefully invest about $100m over the next 10 years."
Parkes said his team were working on a lot of other projects at the moment. Work will start on another overbridge at The Lakes in the next few weeks.
"And then we've got other projects like Totara St – safety improvement and cycle facilities there. And Ngatai Rd. We're working on projects right across the city."
He said it was all about building a transport network that gives people more travel choices, and the $100m investment would achieve that.
"We will certainly be getting more people out of their cars and on to bikes, getting more active. And the more people you make active, the healthier our city becomes. It's healthier from a health perspective for individuals, but it's also healthy for the transport network as well, it makes it run more efficiently."
The council approached the transport agency seeking investment in the bridge.
McLean said after a business case had been completed, the agency was more than happy to partner with the council and invest in the bridge and the planning, design and construction of it.
"It's part of the Government's greater emphasis on active modes, so walking, cycling and so on. But also, as Martin [Parkes] has said, this is part of a wider network of cycle and pedestrian walkways across the Bay of Plenty."
Asked if she thought Tauranga was particularly in need of this kind of infrastructure, McLean said: "In terms of its urban setting, yes I do. And it's also prominent in other cities of this size like Hamilton."
Hamilton has a similar network, she said, "so it doesn't surprise me that, if you think about the urban setting here, I think it's a desire of a lot of residents to have this available to them as well".