The upgrade of the Kakanui Bridge needs to be accelerated, residents say.
In recent years, the 120-year-old wooden one-lane bridge had deteriorated and residents fear one bad weather event could render the route impassable.
When State Highway 1 at Maheno closed due to flooding in January, the Kakanui Bridge was a lifeline for many travellers and emergency services – but Lindsey Rusbatch described the situation as “anarchy”.
“That bridge gets abused, and we have no support from anybody to help us in those situations,” Mr Rusbatch said.
The Kakanui Fire Station is on the north side of the bridge, while 60% of the township’s residents are based on the south side.
When there is flooding in the district, the volunteer brigade always parks a fire engine and a water tanker on the south side of the bridge in case of an emergency, he said.
Residents have lobbied the Waitaki District Council for a new bridge for about 10 years, and discussions between the council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency started about five years ago.
Mr Rusbatch, who is also the chairman of the Kakanui Residents and Improvement Society, said residents were frustrated by the lack of progress – and he voiced their concerns at the council’s recent long-term plan hearings.
“I know it’s on the agenda, I know that it’s programmed, but we haven’t seen any progress,” he said.
“We understand that we’re a small cog in a bigger mechanism, but we just thought thing. We’ve waited our turn, and to wait longer is now a matter of health and safety.”
Waitaki District Council roading manager Mike Harrison said work on a proposal for the bridge design and consents would start next year, and be completed by June 2024.
The project required funding from the Government, through the national land transport plan, which was why construction could not start until 2024, he said.
It was estimated the bridge upgrade would cost $7 million. It would remain single lane, with a walking and cycling lane, Mr Harrison said.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the council was on the “same page” as the Kakanui community, but it needed co-funding from the Government to get it done.
Mr Kircher acknowledged the safety risks, and said he had raised the issues with Transport Minister Michael Wood at a recent mayoral forum.
“We’re still adamant that we need it done as soon as possible,” he said.
“It will build a lot more resilience, and work in that part of the district. It’s also going to help a lot during flood events on the highway – we need to get it done.”