A Thames car dealer is launching a crusade to replace the ageing one-lane Kopu Bridge, saying it is a danger to the public and something needs to be done well before 2010-12, when Transit NZ plans to begin building a replacement.
Ian Richardson, 53, says replacing the 80-year-old bridge is not just a matter of ending the lengthy traffic jams that blight the bridge every public holiday.
"It's an issue involving safety," he said yesterday. "It's just getting really, really serious."
Mr Richardson, who is the general manager of Valley Toyota and has commuted across the bridge for 18 years, said he became particularly alarmed when the structure was closed for urgent maintenance in the middle of last month.
"You can't keep fudging it and going around and hoping it won't collapse," he said.
Transit last night moved to alleviate fears about the bridge, saying it was "perfectly sound", but Mr Richardson said Transit's own website raised concerns to the contrary - including that the bridge was at risk of collapse in an earthquake.
After the bridge was closed to fix a loose bolt on the deck on April 17, Mr Richardson began researching the structure's safety and was alarmed by what he read on the website.
Transit plans to build a new two-lane bridge, beginning between 2010 and 2012, depending on funding, and, in information about the project, says: "The existing bridge is an earthquake risk and sections could potentially collapse in a moderate earthquake."
In another section, the website says the bridge does not meet modern earthquake standards and is therefore vulnerable to natural disasters.
Transit's Waikato/Bay of Plenty regional manager, Kaye Clark, said she understood how the wording on the website could raise people's fears, but there was no cause for alarm.
"We're confident the structure is robust," she said. "With the maintenance regime, there is no need for concern."
She said the bridge was inspected regularly and last month's urgent maintenance was unusual, and not the result of neglect or deterioration.
"From the safety point of view, there's nothing structurally wrong with that bridge and it could certainly cope with the [current] traffic for many years to come with regular maintenance."
Transit has put a start date of 2011-12 on the new bridge, but hopes to bring it forward to 2010-11 if it receives the funding.
The bridge will cost $32 million and take two to three years to build.
Mr Richardson plans to lobby the Government to bring the date even further forward.
"You can't keep pussyfooting around when you've got a report like that from Transit," he said.
Thames Coromandel District Mayor Philippa Barriball echoed Mr Richardson's concerns, saying the local council had lobbied long and hard to have the construction of the new bridge brought forward for a number of reasons, including safety.
She said the Kerepehi faultline ran right through the area where the bridge was built and there was an earthquake risk.
* The one-lane bridge across the Waihou River into Thames was built in 1927-28.
* It is 465m long and provides the main access for traffic from Auckland and areas of Waikato into the Coromandel.
* An average of 7700 vehicles use it daily, but the number can double during holiday peaks, and the bridge has long been plagued by traffic jams.
* Now, a local man is also raising concerns about its safety.