Mount Maunganui's Bayfair underpass has been saved, sort of.
The Bay of Plenty Times can today reveal the popular pedestrian and cyclist accessway that runs under State Highway 2 near the Bayfair Shopping Centre will be replaced by a better, longer version, as part of major construction in the area.
NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi will spend $26 million in demolishing the existing underpass and replacing it with a new version that will span the distance of major road works in the area. Tauranga City Council will fund $2m of this.
The underpass has been the subject of heated protest and petition since 2016 when the transport agency confirmed plans to remove it during the Baypark to Bayfair (B2B) roading development.
Yesterday, Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times the underpass would now be included as part of the B2B project.
The existing underpass will effectively be extended, "providing an uninterrupted separated walking and cycling route between Matapihi, Bayfair and Arataki".
"This will provide a quick and safe way for students, retirees and the general public to get across the highway on foot and by bike or scooter," Genter said
The announcement comes after four years of pleading from the Tauranga community to keep the underpass. Thousands signed a petition and city leaders met with Government officials, concerned that without the underpass there were significant risks to safety of pedestrians, cyclists and school children.
"I would like to acknowledge the strong advocacy from the community on this project. You have made a real difference," Genter said.
Genter also thanked the transport agency for "working hard to find a solution".
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"While this adds cost to the project, it shows safety and access for our more vulnerable road users is a priority."
The B2B project will now cost at least $146m.
The new underpass will span about 90 metres, the distance of the anticipated four-span Bayfair flyover. It will also be made up of two separate, specially strengthened box culverts linked by an open-air trench under the new bridge span.
It will be of a similar height and width of the existing underpass. However, the detailed design was still being worked on.
NZTA senior manager of project delivery Andrew Thackwray said it recognised the importance the community placed on the underpass.
Thackwray said the transport agency, in October, investigated retaining and extending the existing underpass or constructing a pedestrian and cycling overbridge approximately 700m from the Bayfair roundabout.
"The project team, made up of Waka Kotahi, Beca, Tonkin and Taylor and CPB Contractors, alongside Tauranga City Council, has worked tirelessly over the past four and a half months to achieve the result the community was after," he said.
The investigation showed retaining the existing underpass was not possible, so a new one will be built.
The existing underpass is expected to close in the coming months and a second temporary signalised crossing on the Bayfair side of the highway will help facilitate construction of the new underpass.
Exactly how the construction programme of B2B will be affected and extended by the works was still being considered, he said.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said he was thrilled at the news.
"It confirms the Government is listening to the residents of Tauranga," he said.
Powell said the alternative of forcing pedestrians and cyclists to navigate multiple crossings of one of the city's busiest intersections was fraught with risk and did not fit with the Government's policy objectives regarding multi-modal movement.
Powell said the council's contribution of $2m helped ensure the underpass would go ahead.
"Yes, it's expensive but what price do you put on a human life?"
"The community voice was very loud and determined on retaining the underpass. A number of key groups advocated for the underpass, supported by a series of negotiations at political level".
Bayfair Underpass Alliance (BUA) chairman Philip Brown said it had been a "long, hard struggle for common sense to prevail".
The community advocacy group formed as an entity to fight to keep the underpass.
"The BUA had a great team of people who didn't waiver and had the ability to analyse and debate with the experts on their level."
Former Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless, who also fought to keep the underpass and hosted a community meeting about the issue at Mount Maunganui College, said he was glad the transport agency "has finally seen reason".
"Ratepayers paid for the original underpass and I don't believe the Government had any right to take it away."
The B2B project will complete the Bay of Plenty's Eastern Corridor and improve safety, provide better walking and cycling connections and enhance access to accommodate for growth.