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Decision expected soon on new Ashburton bridge

Decision expected soon on new Ashburton bridge
In the lead up to last year's election, National's local government spokesperson Simon Watts, council chief executive Hamish Riach, National’s Rangitata candidate James Meager, deputy mayor Liz McMillan, and National transport spokesperson Simeon Brown were on site at the SH1 bridge to discuss the plans for a second Ashburton/Hakatere River bridge. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK

A decision is expected soon on a second Ashburton bridge as the Government rolls out its 100-day plan.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown last week announced the axing of the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax at the end of June, and said the Government's Policy Statement on Land Transport “which will be released in the coming weeks".

In Mid Canterbury, there is hope it will confirm plans, funding and a timeline for the second bridge across the Ashburton/Hakatere River.

Infrastructure and open spaces group manager Neil McCann said the council is eagerly waiting and expecting an announcement soon.

The second bridge is a resilience project, providing a secondary crossing of the river with the existing bridge having closed twice in recent years due to flooding, cutting off the South Island.

It will also alleviate the congestion issues on State Highway 1.

The whole project, including connecting the bridge to existing roads, is expected to cost at least $113M.

The council has budgeted $7.5m for the project, carried over from previous long-term plans.

“But obviously if the bridge gets fully funded we won’t need it," McCann said.

Ashburton’s mayor hoped the council wouldn't have to fund the bridge via ratepayers.

At a recent council workshop, Mayor Brown said when he meets with the Transport Minister he won’t be committing $7.5m to the project.

“The last Government committed 100% funding.”

The Labour Government included the second bridge as one of 14 key strategic projects in its land transport policy, which Waka Kotahi uses to develop its 10-year National Land Transport Plan.

The coalition Government is preparing its own version of the policy.

“I know it’s being reviewed at the moment but it is in there at 100% funding,” Mayor Brown said.

The mayor said he hoped it remained that way, but some contribution may be required depending on the nature of the project.

During the election campaign, National pledged to build the bridge in its first term.

As the bridge will be built off Chalmers Avenue, and not along State Highway 1, it will be considered a local road once completed.

The council may be called on to fund any necessary upgrades on Chalmers Ave and the new connecting roads on the south side of the river, with the Government funding the bridge construction.

The council’s long-term plan has the construction slated to start in 2025/26 on the Chalmers Ave route, which will be determined by the Government's redrafted policy.

Not just transport resilience

Ashburton’s second bridge has been described as a resilience project that will benefit the whole South Island roading network.

That’s because the second bridge provides a backup for the 93-year-old SH1 Ashburton/Hakatere River Bridge.

Money is also set aside in the long term plan to lay a water main across the new bridge to provide resilience to the water supply.

The council is budgeting $4.62M for a new water main to be installed across the new bridge.

The bridge will also be built to allow for “all sorts of cabling and ducting in mind for the future”, McCann said.

That will provide an opportunity to lay alternative communications cables, as a fibre optic cable to the rest of the South Island runs across the SH1 bridge.

By Jonathan Leask