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Bridge changed Waipoua’s flow

Colombo Road bridge at time of construction, with five men, including consulting engineer, G Laing-Meason, designing engineer, S T Silver, and contractor R Sanders. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

For many years the Waipoua River was the northern boundary for the township of Masterton. GARETH WINTER looks at the changes that followed the introduction of the Colombo Rd bridge.

The area to the north of the river was sparsely settled and remained part of Masterton County until the 1920s. In Queen St there were bridges over the two streams of the Waipoua — the Borough bridge near the site of the stadium, and the County bridge, near the site of the current one.

There was no bridge on Colombo Rd – traffic and stock were forced to risk fording the river or taking the detour through to Queen St. Cyclists and pedestrians living on the east side of town were disgruntled about the extra time it took.

By the early 20th century, the Borough Council was not happy about the location of the saleyards either. Sited between the two Queen St bridges, it felt the yards were not a fitting welcome to visitors from the north.

The local auctioneers looked at different sites for replacement years, at one stage favouring Te Ore Ore Rd opposite Lansdowne School, much to the residents’ dismay. Solway was also suggested as a new location, but in the end, the land on the southern bank of the Waipoua River at Colombo Rd was chosen.

That increased the call for a bridge over the troubled waters of the Waipoua at Colombo Road. Wairarapa Age pointed out that the road was already important for stock and would become increasingly so and it was past time for a new bridge.

However, there was an obstacle. As the river was the boundary, there was discussion as to who should pay for the bridge. At first, it was proposed to build a substantial truss bridge, primarily to serve as a stock bridge, but after negotiations between the borough and the county in 1915, it was agreed that a reinforced concrete structure should be built. The borough thought an 18-foot bridge could be built for about £2540, and they were prepared to pay one-quarter of the cost. The county counter-offered that the borough should pay 40 per cent of the construction cost, but the borough stood firm.

In October 1915 the county agreed to upgrade their original plan, to accept the offer of one quarter from the borough. In January 1916 the county confirmed the tender of Aucklander Robert Sanders for £2289, local bridge-builder W McCalmont missing out by £100. Within a week of the acceptance, work commenced on the bridge. Carriers were advised that the ford could no longer be used by vehicles, but stock movements were permitted.

The construction took longer than first envisioned – New Zealand was at war, and there was a shortage of carpenters. It took until March 1917 for the bridge to be open to traffic. By that time new saleyards had been opened at the bridge, and the bridge was in constant use.

At the time, the Waipoua river took a course that swung around the edge of the cemetery before joining the current flow at the bridge. In the mid to late 1930s the river was straightened, and two extra spans were added to the bridge. In the late 1970s, a companion bridge was built alongside the old one and a footpath attached to the old bridge.

One of the effects of straightening the Waipoua river has been to increase its velocity through the Queen Elizabeth Park area, resulting in the degradation of the riverbed, exposing the bridge’s supports and causing the bridge to become unsafe. After 105 years of service, it is to be replaced.

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