Court battle over Queenstown bridge

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Bureaucrats are battling over whether the replacement for Queenstown’s single-lane Kawarau Falls Bridge will have dedicated cycleways and walkways.

Otago Regional Council goes to the Environment Court in early October, accusing the Government’s NZ Transport Agency of “inadequacies” in its design for the bridge, estimated to cost up to $20 million.

The design has cyclists mixing it with vehicles in a probable 70kmh speed zone.

“The expectation cyclists using the new bridge will either travel in the lane with motorised traffic or ride along the shoulder is inadequate,” ORC says in a legal submission.

“Many vehicles will be large tourist coaches and some freight trucks.”

The 1.5 metre shoulder will be “intimidating and potentially unsafe for cyclists”, ORC’s submission says.

Walkers are also sacrificed – there’s no proper walkway, ORC transport policy boss Jane Turnbull says.

“[NZTA] proposes a footpath on the bridge,” she says – however “it seems to be primarily for people to go onto the bridge and take photographs or look at the view.”

The new bridge is “a key part of the [Wakatipu] trails network”, Turnbull says, yet its footpath won’t link with any trail.

ORC also accuses NZTA of failing to “future-proof” the new bridge by ignoring tourism growth, a likely Jack’s Point population explosion, a probable surge in cycle tourism and increased foot traffic.

“[NZTA has] not considered all traffic flow,” Turnbull adds, saying the planned bridge puts motorised vehicles first and walkers and cyclists second.

NZTA spokesperson Bob Nettleton appears to confirm that claim, telling Mountain Scene: “The proposed new bridge will provide for all state highway traffic, including road cyclists and occasional pedestrians.”

Nettleton says the present one-lane bridge “will provide for local pedestrians and off-road cyclists who’ll be able to connect with the existing bridge from trails and footpaths in the area”.

But ORC has doubts about that too.

ORC alleges NZTA will take the old bridge off its highway network once the new bridge opens – and won’t “accept responsibility for providing, funding and maintaining walking and cycling facilities on this [old] bridge.”

ORC’s bottom line is NZTA must redesign its bridge to properly cater for walkers and cyclists – or guarantee to keep the old bridge open and fund its walkways and cycleways “for at least 100 years”.

Queenstown Lakes District Council is piggy-in-the-middle in the bureaucratic scrap.

Transport boss Denis Mander confirms they’re looking at taking over ownership of the old bridge because “it’s an important element of the district’s recreational cycling and walking network”.

However, the condition of the old bridge and the dam below, together with the cost of maintenance, are all unknowns at present, he says.

Mander: “Council would be wary of taking over infrastructure that would be a significant financial burden to the ratepayer.”

In the local council’s own legal submission, it evidently shares many of ORC’s concerns about the new bridge, scheduled for construction in 2016-17.

Unlike ORC, Mander hopes to avoid court: “My council would be hopeful issues raised in our submission can be satisfactorily resolved with NZTA in negotiations over the final design and the future of the old bridge.”