This week the South Island south of Ashburton was cut off from the rest of the country. A torrential flood earlier in the week damaged the Ashburton/Hakatere Bridge on State Highway 1 and other roads were also closed due to the storm damage.
Truck drivers, bringing essential supplies to towns beyond Ashburton faced a 13-hour detour through the West Coast. Locals have been petitioning successive governments for years for an alternative bridge. Reports into the feasibility of a second bridge go back to 2006.
In 2010, a case in favour of a second bridge pointed out there was no viable alternative route and that the current bridge was at risk during natural weather events. Like flooding. Well, the experts were right.
The bridge WAS damaged due to flooding and the transport network was put under serious stress as a result. An alternative bridge, it is estimated, would cost $30 million. On Friday, the Government announced it would spend $785m on a harbour bridge for cyclists and pedestrians.
That would buy 26 bridges for Ashburton. They just want the one. I could certainly understand it if South Islanders felt like second class citizens this week.
Oh, it's not the current government's fault that the alternative Ashburton bridge has yet to be built. Successive governments and councils have squabbled over who should pay for the bridge and have chosen, year after year, not to prioritise the bridge when they draw up their "to do" infrastructure lists. But to make the announcement of a $785m Skypath in the same week that the South Island has been cut in two for want of a $30m bridge seems callous.
Cycling advocates have been screaming for a way to get from the North Shore to Auckland for years. With this government they have a sympathetic ear. And I get it. It would be lovely to have a way to get across the harbour other than by car or bus. But it's all a matter of priorities.
This same week the Three Waters Reform report was released stressing the dire need for New Zealand to upgrade its drinking, storm and waste water systems and future proof them for further generations.
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According to Infrastructure Commission chairman Alan Bollard, New Zealand has a $20 billion infrastructure deficit in building or upgrading our pipes, roads, ports, broadband, tunnels and bridges and there are 2400 projects in the pipeline. And a cycle lane across the harbour is deemed to be urgent?
Again, to quote Bollard, an Auckland Harbour Bridge cycleway project will move less than 1 per cent of the existing bridge traffic while subsidising some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country. The arithmetic, he says, does not stack up. And he's right. I love cycling. I agree there needs to be more options for people to get around this sprawling city. But I also agree with Alan Bollard. The numbers don't stack up.
I was having a spirited discussion with a colleague about the cycleway on the day it was announced. She's a Shore girl and a staunch supporter of the Northern Pathway. But you don't even own a bike, I said. Well, no, she replied. But I'll get one. And maybe that's what will happen. All the able bodied men and women of the Shore will hop on their bikes, rain and shine, and swarm over the $785m cycleway – but I doubt it.
The Harbour Bridge itself needs replacing – I hold my breath every time I drive over the bloody thing, half expecting it to collapse beneath me. The waters of the harbour are polluted and a damning indictment on us all. The people of the South Island have been cast adrift. And we spend $785m on a cycle way and walking path. Talk about pedalling while Rome burns.