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Upgrade or replacement for bridge

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen talking with Minister of Transport Michael Wood at Waihenga Bridge. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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A replacement for Martinborough’s Waihenga Bridge may be on the horizon if the region decides to prioritise the project.

Minister of Transport Michael Wood visited Wairarapa last week to assess the region’s transportation issues, meeting South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen and Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty at the bridge on State Highway 53.

Beijen said the conversation focused on the bridge’s safety, including its non-compliant side barriers and unsuitability for cyclists.

He said agricultural contractors already had to traverse the narrow bridge, and future forestry projects would only increase heavy and wide traffic.

Waihenga Bridge had an average of two closures a year, forcing Martinborough residents to take a much longer route to Featherston or Greytown. The latest closure was last month after water levels in the Ruamahanga River rose to about 5.4 metres.

Beijen said having more clearance above the river would mean fewer closures due to extreme weather events.

“With three to four closures per annum of late, it does have an impact on the economics of South Wairarapa, as well as inconvenience,” Beijen said.

“However, the safety aspects are the most concerning.”

Last year, Waka Kotahi said the bridge performed adequately and did not need immediate attention.

However, McAnulty had called on the transport agency to replace the bridge.

Regional land transport committees developed plans listing projects as bids for government funding every three years.

Waka Kotahi prioritised the bids based on three factors: how well a proposed activity aligned with the government policy statement on land transport; how critical the proposed activity was in relation to other activities in a package or network; and the project’s expected return on investment.

Safety improvements to State Highway 2 between Masterton and Carterton, including roundabouts and roadside barriers, were among the Wellington region’s 39 priority programmes in its 2021 plan.

The next round of funding would begin in 2024.

Wood said Waka Kotahi took into account what each region considered their most important projects.

“Like in your household, you have lots of things that you might want, but you have to choose what you can deliver. It’s the same with the transport system.”

He said that investment in transport was critical to keep up with Wairarapa’s population and economic growth.

“If I’m frank with you, I think it’s been a region that for a long time wasn’t getting the investment that it needed to support that growth and those issues.”

Wood said that the region would need to show its support for the bridge replacement if the project was to be prioritised ahead of other projects.

“I certainly heard that for Mayor Alex [Beijen] and others in that community, that bridge is right at the top of the list. If we can get a strong steer from the region, that does help Waka Kotahi to make those choices.”

Beijen said he had been requesting an upgrade to the bridge for some time but did not expect any action until at least 2024.

“I will continue to try for earlier inclusion.”

Wood said the relatively small population of Martinborough would not be a consideration when prioritising regional projects.

Beijen said that he agreed to an extent. However, he said that if there were a bridge in Wellington with a similar safety profile, it would have been replaced decades ago.

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