Queues and safety concerns at an aging bridge south of Ruatoria are now a thing of the past, with the East Coast community celebrating the completion of the new Kopuaroa Bridge on State Highway 35 today.
The NZ Transport Agency's celebrated the $3m bridge with dozens of members of the community at Rongo-i-te-kai (Penu) Marae this afternoon. The project sees the three-quarters of a century old Kopuaroa Bridge replaced by a wider, two-lane bridge that can safely accommodate two-way traffic as well as cyclists and pedestrians. The bridge was completed three months after being initially opened to traffic-on time and on budget.
Acting state highway manager Gordon Hart says the NZTA are thrilled that the $3m project has been greeted so positively by the local community.
"In far-flung but close-knit communities like the East Coast, helping to connect people safely is of utmost importance, whether you're talking whanau or forestry. We're really pleased to help bring people together more safely and easily."
"It's been a real privilege for both ourselves and our contractors to work closely with the local community and iwi, who have been so supportive the whole way through."
Mr Hart thanked students from Makarika School, who were present at today's ceremony. The students participated in stream monitoring to help ensure that the stream was well protected during the work, as well as learning about constructing bailey bridges.
He praised the NZTA's building contractor Fibretek, who has taken part in local community sports days and helped improve the local Marae facilities.
"At the heart of it, projects like this are all about connecting communities. We're really humbled by how the community has connected so warmly and helpfully with our team."
Mr Hart also thanked iwi for their involvement in the project. Iwi were closely involved in consultation, and locals were employed by the contractor for the physical works.
A pou (carving) that was commissioned for the project was unveiled at a dawn ceremony earlier in the day.
Mr Hart says the bridge will also improve economic productivity for the East Coast by reducing delays for truckies and providing a secure bridge link that was less prone to closure in the event of bad weather.
"Ensuring route security on this highway is a top strategic priority for the region, and this project puts this strategy into action."
The completion of the bridge was also welcomed by Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon.
"Improving safety on SH35 is important, and I'd like to thank NZTA staff and their contractors, Makarika school and the neighbours for all their support."
Mr Hart says Fibretek and consultants Opus did a great job of getting the job finished on time, particularly given the challenging nature of the job. The approaches for the bailey bridge were washed out in winter, resulting in the closure of the road, but access was restored in just two days with the swift construction of abutments.
The new bridge is the third major project in recent years that the NZTA has carried out to improve transport on the East Coast, following realignments at Goldsmith's Hill and Busby's Hill.