State Highway 25A between Kōpū and Hikuai will reopen to traffic in time for Christmas - a full three months earlier than anticipated.
The news brings a welcome economic boost to the beleaguered Coromandel Peninsula, an area heavily reliant on tourism, which has suffered severe economic downturn on the back of last summer’s cyclones and weather events.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency regional manager of infrastructure delivery for Waikato/Bay of Plenty Jo Wilton says the route will re-open by 20 December 2023, now that the decking is complete on the new 124-metre viaduct bridge, which spans the abyss that severed the highway in late January.
“Our team has done an amazing job, not only constructing the new bridge in record time, but at the same time we’ve invested an additional $25 million to enable multiple crews to clear slips, replace the original undersized culvert, and undertake crucial road maintenance work along the rest of the length of SH25A to ensure the whole corridor is up to scratch, safe and more resilient,” Wilton said.
“Getting this maintenance work completed now also means we can avoid further work and disruption for drivers during the busy summer period.”
The bridge is being constructed to plug a 124-metre-wide expanse that was created after Auckland Anniversary Day flooding was the catalyst for a section of the highway to be washed away, closing a main arterial route to the Eastern seaboard.
Construction began in June after the Government committed to fund Waka Kotahi an initial cost estimate of $30-40 million in May, which was later revised to be closer to $50 million. Transport Minister at the time, Michael Wood, said the money for the project would come from the Government’s $250m top-up to the National Land Transport Programme fund, set up to support the recovery.
An artists impression of the new bridge reconnecting SH25A in the Coromandel. The project is expected to be finished by April. Photo / Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency
The closure of the highway has added to the economic woes experienced by many business and tourism operators in Coromandel, who have seen a significant decline in business.
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Visitor spending in the Coromandel plummeted in the first half of 2023, with electronic card spending decreasing by $60 million, and total regional spending was down 25 per cent in the January-June period, usually the busiest time in the region when compared with 2021-22.
Destination Hauraki Coromandel general manager Hadley Dryden said in October: “The storms in early 2023 and ongoing bad weather and road closures left Hauraki-Coromandel communities in a demoralising situation.”
Wilton said while there is still a lot of work to do to finish the bridge by Christmas, getting traffic across as soon as possible has always been the aim for Waka Kotahi.
“We’re thrilled to be able to announce that the two sides of the Coromandel Peninsula will be reconnected once again in time for the summer holidays, with traffic able to cross the SH25A bridge by 20 December.
“We know how difficult the highway closure has been on local families, businesses, schools and communities and the impact it’s had on visitors to the region. That’s why, along with our builders, McConnell Dowell and Fulton Hogan J.V., we’ve pulled out all the stops to deliver the fastest and most resilient solution for the Coromandel.
“With the build beginning in June, getting it open in less than seven months is a huge achievement given a bridge of this type would normally take 12 to 14 months to construct.
“We’ve built the bridge in record time by accelerating our work programme, with teams working 24-hour shifts both onsite and offsite at Eastbridge in Napier, where the steel girders were manufactured.
“In addition, we used a bridge design we already had and repurposed steel plates which had been purchased for the Minden Bridge on Tauranga’s Takitimu North Link project, meaning we didn’t have a lengthy wait for steel to come in from overseas.”
With finishing works still ongoing, the bridge will open under traffic management at a reduced speed. The project team will be completing drainage and planting, so the project won’t be fully complete for a few more months. This work won’t require the road to be closed, though traffic management will be required from time to time.
The cost of the bridge, once everything is finished, is expected to be approximately $43m, under the $50m estimate.
“We’d like to thank everyone who is working so hard to get this bridge open by Christmas and our special thanks to the Coromandel community for their patience and support. We know it’s been a tough year and we hope this new bridge is the gift that helps get the Peninsula back on its feet,” Wilton says.
A timelapse video of the Taparahi Bridge construction can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKjtpCyPDmQ.
Top left: Looking west from the new bridge; Top right: The night-shift soil nailing crew at work; Bottom left: Deck panels in place; Bottom right: The eastern approach to the new bridge. Photos / Jenni Austin
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