Small bite of Big Apple for Falls

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The traffic-clogged bridge

Queenstown’s old Kawarau Falls Bridge could resemble New York’s iconic High Line once it’s defunct as a state highway.

Mayor Jim Boult confirms City Hall’s in talks with bridge owner Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which currently leases it to NZ Transport Agency.

He wants to develop it as a recreational asset for the community, and the Wakatipu Heritage Trust is also on the case.

The details still need to be thrashed out but trustee Gillian Macleod wants plans to include new lighting, seating and history panels.

She’s “nagging” NZTA.

“They know I am not going to let it go and I’ve been very supported by Jim,” she says.

“I want to get some really clever seating on the bridge … so it becomes a bridge to not only commute over, but linger on and enjoy the view.

“I am very keen that the bridge is restored and aesthetically designed to a really high standard so the walking and cycling becomes an absolute pleasure.

“I’m taking my guide from the High Line in New York.”

Nwe York’s High Line

The Big Apple’s tourist attraction has been created on a former New York Central Railroad.

Macleod reckons it’s the perfect template for the ramshackle 91-year-old, single-lane bridge.

Agency project boss Phil Dowsett has commissioned a conservation plan.

The report is a record of the structure, history and what needs modified.

Dowsett confirms it’s been tasked with leaving the bridge “fit for purpose as a walking and cycling route”.

While “embellishments” haven’t as yet been budgeted for, he is listening to the trust’s ideas.

But, definitely on the cards are interpretation panels to explain the history of the bridge and area.

Dowsett explains it has a rich Maori culture – and was used as an early greenstone trading route.

“It’s always been the intention to make it a people place, where people meet. The landscaping we are planning to do, and with the embellishments, it will be a great community asset.”

Boult says it’d make sense for council to take ownership long term, something the authority’s previously been vague about.

“We want assurances about its condition before we accept it because we don’t want to inherit a liability,” he says.

MBIE comms adviser Sean Martin confirms it’ll retain ownership and responsibility for the bridge, and keep paying the bills, until all details are confirmed.

Macleod says she doesn’t know where extra cash will come from. Her sums put ‘extras’ at about $50,000 – of which the trust can stump up around $2000.

The trust is prepared to help fundraise if necessary.

Dowsett says NZTA will hand the reins back to MBIE in June, when it completes its end of the bargain.

louise.scott@scene.co.nz