Kawarau bridge talks ongoing

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The old Kawarau Falls bridge continues to be the orphan nobody wants.

Decommissioned as a road bridge in January when its $22 million replacement opened, the 94-year-old structure is about to be refurbished in preparation for a new life as a bridge for walkers and cyclists.

Owned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), it has been leased to the NZ Transport Agency for use as a highway.

Now, the ministry and NZTA want to hand over its ownership — and associated maintenance costs — to the Queenstown Lakes District Council. Discussions between the three agencies began in 2014, and appear to be dragging on.

Council community services general manager Thunes Cloete was tight-lipped when contacted by the Otago Daily Times last  week, only saying it was negotiating with MBIE about taking over the bridge in an “acceptable state”.

No timeframe has been set for reaching agreement.

When asked about the council’s assessment of its condition, Dr Cloete said “these types of assessments are being worked through as part of the agreement”.

An assessment of the bridge’s above-water structure, commissioned by the council in 2013, concluded it was built from poor-quality, unreinforced concrete, and susceptible to damage from an earthquake.

However, NZTA senior project manager Phil Dowsett tells the ODT the bridge was in sound condition and “capable of carrying 44-tonne trucks”.

It was inspected annually while carrying vehicles, and never had a weight limit.

Because it would now only be used by walkers and cyclists, its maintenance costs would be much lower.

Unusually, MBIE inherited the 145m-long structure because it was built as a dam in 1924 in a failed attempt to mine the Kawarau River bed for gold.

It is on the New Zealand Heritage List as a category 1 historic place.

A start to the refurbishment project was “imminent”, and expected to be finished by Christmas, Mr Dowsett says.

Its handrails would be brought up to current safety standards, and information panels installed.

“The original bridge deck is sound and will largely be left untouched. The winding gear and dam gates are not operational and will be left as they are.

“The bridge will look as it does now, but with the vehicle guardrails removed.”

The cost of the project was part of the contract for the new road bridge.

Most of the existing utility services would stay on the old bridge, including gas, power, telecommunications, water supply and waste water. Power, water supply and waste water were duplicated on the new bridge, which added security in the event of a planned or unplanned shutdown, he says.

guy.williams@odt.co.nz