The long-awaited opening of the first of the two new bridges being built over the Waitaki River on State Highway 82 was a real community event attended by more than 400 people.
A 1938 Pontiac owned and driven by long-time Kurow resident Trevor Appleby was the first vehicle to cross the new Waitaki No2 Bridge. On board were Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, local identities, sisters Yvonne Foster and Aileen Parker and eight-year-old Grace Newlands, a pupil from the local School.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean opened the bridge with a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony. Among the invited guests were Mayor of Waimate Craig Rowley, Mayor of the Waitaki District Gary Kircher, McConnell Dowell Constructors General Manager Roger McRae and the NZ Transport Agency’s 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 both the project and the contractor McConnell Dowell.
Jacqui Dean was the first to travel over the new bridge, joined in the 1938 Pontiac 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. The Pontiac was 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 the state highway 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 is expected to open in June 2014
Mr Harland says one of the greatest benefits of the project is in safeguarding the critical road link between Kurow and Hakataramea that has existed since the late 19th Century.
“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 travelling through the region and accessing Lindis Pass and the Mackenzie Country.”
Safety is also a strong focus for the project, with barrier-separated pathways on each bridge for cyclists and pedestrians to walk or cycle safely across the river between the two communities.
Work has begun 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 bridges on the Hakataramea side will be retained and permanently displayed on Kurow Island to preserve part of the area’s history.