A Bridge Too Far
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Victor Luca, 12-Jan-20.
During the local body elections of 2019, I made a 2nd bridge for Whakatāne part of my election campaign platform.
Letters to the Editor, Whakatāne Beacon 7-Aug-19
Man of action standing for mayor
It was pleasing to read on Friday that Dr Victor Luca is to stand for mayor. It was pleasing to read of him being a man of action. Why has the need for a second bridge quietly disappeared from Whakatāne District Council’s agenda? The heavy flow of the river in flood brings a lot of logs that build up on the bridge piles. We were told a few years ago that when traffic reached a certain level, investigations would start. Traffic levels are way up and no discussion. Residents in Landing Road extension were told at a council meeting before the last election that the roundabout block was temporary, then that the time frame was being extended until the Taneatua bridge was being repaired, then we were told that the council was to investigate a temporary barrier or lights for the approximately two hours a day when traffic was heaviest.
At a council meeting we were told a slipway would be put in before Christmas to give access to Hinemoa Street. Then this was delayed but to be completed before the end of that financial year. Two engineers came out to plan it. Nothing happened. Council did have a dubious Facebook survey. The present situation has put extra traffic pressure on Victoria and James streets and then at times King Street is blocked up to the Kope round about.
Cars and sometimes trucks still turn from Hinemoa Street to the Landing Road Extension confused as how to go to town. Pre-Christmas traffic into town blocks movement from the Kope roundabout and out across the bridge. At present there is obviously no forward planning. Just short-term measures and then hope that people will forget or it will just go away.
Whakatane District Council Manager Transport Martin Taylor responds
The council is very much aware that the volume of traffic moving through Whakatāne township each day is increasing year on year. In 2016 the council changed the configuration of the Landing Road roundabout by the bridge, and this saw a significant improvement in congestion levels coming into town.
Since then a business case has been developed and recently submitted to the New Zealand Transport Agency, seeking funding for the next stage of work which is the progression of a traffic study. This study will look at vehicle movements in and through the town and will identify the most cost-effective roading improvements to improve traffic flows. It is expected that this body of work will identify options for a more permanent solution to the Landing Road roundabout intersection as one of the first improvement projects to be undertaken. The matter of a second bridge crossing into town will also be included in the scope of the traffic study. The council anticipates that NZTA funding for the traffic study will be approved in September/October this year, and following this, tenders will be called for the work. It is anticipated that the findings of this study will be reported back by May 2020.
Dr Victor Luca – Mayoral Candidate 2019
This letter is a response to letters by Maurice Eddy and Martin Taylor (Manager Transport, WDC) published in the Beacon on Wednesday 7th of August 2019 concerning a possible second bridge for Whakatāne.
As a man of science I try to resist the temptation to weigh into arguments without being in possession of the facts. Therefore, in an attempt to get clarity regarding the Landing Road bridge situation I have been perusing Annual Plans (AP) and Long Term Plans (LTP) available on the Whakatāne District Council (WDC) web site.
First a bit of history for relative newcomers to the district. Funding for the original bridge in Whakatāne was awarded in 1907 and work was completed in 1911. The bridge crossed at Otamakaokao and into Bridge Street. It took just over 50 years for that original bridge to be replaced by the Landing Road Bridge that was completed in 1961. Another 50 years or so have now passed and a second bridge is well overdue.
The earliest AP on the WDC web site appears to be the AP of 2008-2009. However, despite my best efforts I have found it difficult to trace the chain of events that led to the present confusing situation. A traffic flow study was commissioned in 2008 in which a second bridge location was proposed to the south of the town and options for access analyzed. A second bridge was promised in the 2010-2011 AP and then not mentioned at all in any subsequent APs. The Long Term Council Community Plan of 2009-2019 in a table entitled “What we are going to do” states “Second bridge over the Whakatāne River (provisional funding indication only - project feasibility still to be developed)” and puts the price tag at $25,500,000.
The LTP 2012-2022 mentions the possibility of another traffic study and states that “This study will identify the options and potential projects that would help to provide a high level of road access security and will specifically consider the need for a second bridge over the Whakatāne River”. I presume that this is the study to which Taylor is referring. Curiously, there is no mention of a second bridge in the LTP of 2015-2025. The most recent LTP of 2018-2028 essentially rules out the new bridge project but leaves the door open to reconsideration at some unspecified time in the distant future (refer to P 95).
My analysis suggests although the WDC has undoubtedly had the best intentions, its communications and series of plans that have been put into the public domain have sown the seeds for plenty of confusion as indicated by the letters of 7th of August. Aside from the fact that increased traffic flows pose an ever increasing inconvenience to rate payers, I consider the existence of a second bridge a matter of absolute priority, not for traffic reasons, but for public safety reason. Although I understand the need for more studies and the writing of business plans to justify these more up-to-date studies as mentioned in Taylor’s letter, I think there is a need to go to Wellington and petition the powers that be in person for funds for a second bridge using public safety arguments.
First however, a cogent and precise statement of the councils thinking regarding a second bridge would go a long way toward eliminating confusion.
At the moment it looks like council has run up the white flag.