A small Northland community has been forced to drive the long way around for months after repairs to a bridge were held up waiting for safety rails.
The small but heavily-used bridge on a rural South Hokianga road opened on Wednesday, eight months after the old bridge was removed and after thousands of extra kilometres travelled by locals.
The delay frustrated residents of Ōtaua, southwest of Kaikohe, to the point where some threatened to remove the barriers and start using the bridge which they say was finished except for the guard rails since August.
Farm worker Dawn Douglas, who lives just beyond Ōtaua Bridge No 28, said the distance from her home to State Highway 12 was about 5km.
However, while the bridge was closed she had to take a 14km detour via Ninihi Rd which, until a dust suppressant was applied, was choked with dust from logging trucks and corrugated due to the higher than usual volume of traffic. Ninihi Rd also crossed a bridge which flooded in heavy rain.
Locals understood Covid-19 and the July flood had caused delays, but couldn't understand why it had taken so long to install the rails.
''It got to the point where I wanted to go down with my tractor and move the barriers so we could use the bridge,'' she said.
Calls to the phone numbers listed on signs at the worksite just led to buck-passing, she said.
''It seems they don't care because we live in the wops,'' she said.
Her husband, Dave Douglas, said the bridge had been more or less finished, apart from the rails, since August.
The detour and bridge-related road works had cost his Suzuki Swift two sumps so far and he had held off with replacing the cracked windscreen until the bridge was finished.
He was, however, pleased to see the new bridge open at last.
''It'll save us a lot of driving. And even with the old bridge we couldn't get harvesters over because of the weight limit. The other bridge [on Ninihi Rd] is too narrow so we had to drag them through the creek instead.''
One of their neighbours, who was due to have a baby any day, would be relieved she'd be spared making a dash to hospital the long way around.
Ōtaua dairy farmer Richard Dampney said logging trucks used the old bridge until 2018, when a 5000kg weight restriction was imposed due to safety concerns. They had been using Ninihi Rd since then.
''Then in mid-May they ripped the old bridge out but it's taken them that long to finish it. It's the inconvenience.''
Dampney headed to his farm early each day for milking, came home for breakfast, went back to work, drove home for lunch, then went back to the farm again. The 4km trip expanded to 10km each way with the detour.
People living in Ōtaua Valley were also forced to drive the long way around, often in small cars not suited to the road conditions, he said.
Far North District Council spokesman Richard Edmondson said the bridge was found to be failing during a routine inspection with a contract to replace it awarded on March 3, shortly before the lockdown.
The delays were due to the ferocity of the 1-in-500 year storm that dumped 220mm of rain on the Mid North in a few hours, issues getting the guard rails made, and unexpected problems with the land around the bridge meaning parts of it had to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Guard rails were not standard parts and in this case they had to be modified at the entry and exit points after other changes were made to the bridge. Those changes were not finalised until early November.
''Without guard rails, the bridge was not considered safe for public use. That is why the bridge remained closed until designs were finalised, materials procured and the rails installed,'' Edmondson said.
The council regretted the inconvenience to residents, he said.
According to a council report, the cost of replacing the bridge has increased from an initial $999,000 to $1.22 million. The extra funding was approved at a council Infrastructure Committee meeting in September.