The first of the two new bridges being built by the NZ Transport Agency over the Waitaki River on State Highway 82 at Kurow was opened this morning by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.
The traditional ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by Jacqui Dean and more than 400 guests, including Waimate District Council Mayor Craig Rowley, Waitaki District Council Mayor Gary Kircher, McConnell Dowell Constructors Ltd General Manager Roger McRae and NZ Transport Agency Southern Regional Director Jim Harland.
Mr Harland told the gathering that the opening of the first of the two replacement bridges only a year after the ground-breaking ceremony was a great achievement for the project and the contractor McConnell Dowell.
Jacqui Dean, joined by local identities, sisters Yvonne Foster and Aileen Parker (nee Welsh), and eight-year-old Grace Newlands, the great great granddaughter of William Ogilvy Ross who operated the ferry service and punt across the river until the historic rail/road bridge opened in 1881, were first to travel over the new bridge in a 1938 Pontiac driven by Trevor Appleby whose family settled in Kurow in 1896, establishing a coach building and blacksmith shop.
Two new two-lane bridges are being built on State Highway 82 to replace the two ageing 133-year-old single-lane timber bridges. The $20.1 million project is part of the Transport Agency’s $1 billion programme of investment in Canterbury’s transport network from 2012 to 2015. The second and larger of the two bridges will open later this year.
Mr Harland said one of the greatest benefits of the project was in safeguarding the critical road link between Kurow and Hakataramea that has existed for more than 133 years.
“Rural communities rely heavily on their transport network not only to operate their business, in getting goods and services to and from their properties, but also to provide social connectivity within what are often isolated communities.
“By the end of this year, this community will be guaranteed of having a road link that supports economic growth and productivity through the safe and efficient movement of freight, along with a secure route for tourists heading through to Lindis Pass and into the Mackenzie Country.”
He said safety was a strong focus for the project and by building barrier-separated pathways on each bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, locals and visitors to the area have the option to walk or cycle safely across the river between the two communities.
With today’s opening, work will begin next week to deconstruct the first of the old timber bridges. Material from both bridges is being gifted to the Waimate and Waitaki district councils and the Department of Conservation for disposal, to be used in local historic and community projects.
Two spans from the bridge on the Hakataramea side will be retained and permanently displayed on Kurow Island to preserve part of the area’s history.
The piper who led the official party and guests across the river was Hugh Cameron. His family settled in the Waitaki Valley in 1891.
Sisters Yvonne Foster and Aileen Parker, now in their 80s, rode their bikes across the bridges in the 1940s to attend school in Kurow. The sisters would often climb down the inspection ladders on their way to school and ice skate on the frozen braids/ponds below. They recall when the Waitaki was in full flood and the bridge would sway with the force of the water.
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