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Safety concerns raised for cycle bridge users

Concept graphic of the suspension bridge over the Tauherenikau River. PHOTOS/FILE

The new cycle bridge over the Tauherenikau River on Underhill Rd is set to be completed in February.

But concerns have been raised about the safety of cyclists using the existing roading network, given there is no trail linking the bridge to any cycle network yet.

The bridge would eventually be part of the $32 million proposed Wairarapa Five Towns Trail Network, made up of almost 200km of recreational trails for walking and cycling, linking Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown, Carterton, and Masterton.

The trail’s master plan is in the process of being approved by councils, and it is understood its construction would be externally funded.

“There’s no easy way to say this, but [Underhill Rd] is extremely dangerous,” South Wairarapa councillor Alistair Plimmer said at last week’s Assets and Services meeting.

“It is a narrow road and it’s an extremely dusty road.

“It’s not the first truck that will kill a cyclist, it’s the second one, because they won’t see them.”

He was relaying these concerns from nearby residents who had spoken with him and councillor Garrick Emms.

Plimmer said the new bridge would be open before a trail to link it would be.

This meant an increased volume of cyclists would be using Underhill Rd.

“My real concern is that something is happening without thinking it right through.

“I would hate to be sitting on council saying, oh yeah, sorry someone is dead because we didn’t do anything about it as a council.”

South Wairarapa councillor Alistair Plimmer.

Plimmer said he supported the concept of the Five Towns Trail network, but was concerned about immediate safety issues arising from the new Tauherenikau Bridge.

“Nothing is in place to look after the safety of people who use that bridge. We’ve got only a couple of months now to come up with a safety plan for the people who are going to use that bridge.”

He said the nearby residents’ concerns should be taken seriously and the council needed an answer for them on how safety would be ensured.

“The last thing you want is one of those local people driving up the road and coming across the body of someone who has been hit by a truck. That’s not fair on them and it is irresponsible of us to allow that to occur.”

Plimmer raised the concerns during discussions to approve the master plan for the Five Towns Trail Network.

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen said Plimmer was “raising objections on a very broad plan that hasn’t been decided”.

He said the Tauherenikau Bridge project was out of sync with the rest of the trail’s development because it received Provincial Growth Fund money from the government. Funding is yet to be sourced for the rest of the trail network.

“I think this discussion is for later. We are looking at a broad concept,” Beijen said.

Councillor Pip Maynard disagreed with the mayor’s point.

“Any issues with regard to health and safety should actually start being looked at right from the start, especially if it relates to potential loss of life,” she said.

“That should play a part on what they are looking at for the design concept. Yes it is a broad thing, but it already mentions Underhill Rd.”

Chief executive Harry Wilson suggested creating an action item to discuss the safety of trail users with the Wairarapa Trails Action Group.

Plimmer also raised concerns about the maintenance of the trails in South Wairarapa once they were created. Estimates showed maintenance costs for South Wairarapa would be about $195,000 a year, he said.

“We need to be aware that under this proposal, ratepayers are going to be stumping up with $200k a year to maintain the trails in South Wairarapa.”

Amenities manager Bryce Neems said this was possible, but that the cycle network was still in a blueprint stage and there was still uncertainties around how the trail would be managed and funded.

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