A Letter About the Ashley Bridge and My Reply

Dear David,

After the disaster of the first day when the bridge closed, traffic levels have eased off somewhat, meaning that my trip to school does not take so long. This has been helped by (a) presence of Mr. Plod and (b) people now knowing distances and times to get to work (c) lots choosing not to go to work today!
 
However, my concerns about the Cones Road bridge have not abated. Council has known for years that the bridge was at the end of its life span. I find it hard to believe that they sat around waiting for government subsidies to kick in!
 
Around 1990/91 it appears that the ‘state highway’ appellation was removed and re-designated ‘scenic highway.’ Did that affect subsidies? Is this why nothing happened for so long?
 
I have written to my local MP about this issue. I know that nothing will happen (National MP) but it made me feel better. Is there anything that we can do as a group on the north side of the Ashley river to keep this issue in the public eye? Or is the council pressuring the Transit Authority anyway?
 
Realistically speaking I am less inconvenienced than some of my fellow rural residents, but some of my colleagues are facing long commutes to work; this is in addition to their farming duties. Very stressful for them at this time of the year.
 
You say that the bridge qualifies for a 60% subsidy; when, realistically, could that money be apportioned? What is wrong with having a Bailey’s bridge until that bridge is built? Why spend more money on the present bridge? At what point does it become uneconomic to repair? I have lots more questions. I had better stop. Will there be any public meetings to clarify things with ratepayers?
 
Regards,
…………
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 Hi ……..Thanks for your email.

Yes, you are probably right about the traffic. I sat in my car at the Wyllies Road / Main North Road corner yesterday morning (Friday) to monitor the traffic. I arrived about 3 minutes to 7.00 and left just after 8.30. For almost all of that time the queue varied between 0 and 4, but there were 2 or 3 periods of heavier traffic. The longest queues occurred for 5-10 minutes around 8.15 when they got up to 20-25 vehicles at times. I timed one obvious vehicle as it joined the queue in the distance and it took almost exactly 2 minutes for it to get on to the Main North Road. The other busier periods saw the queue get up to about 12, and these cleared quickly – seconds rather than minutes. The police weren’t there.

However, it was probably not all that typical a day and I agree that quite a few would have stayed home if they were able to. This meant that there were almost certainly fewer coming from Sefton as well as more gaps on the Main North Road.

The Council in my time, which relative to the bridge is since 1986 (the Borough Council was not involved with it) has sought engineering reports on the structure from time to time. The answer that always came back was at least 10 years. This did not mean that in the engineers’ view that it had only had 10 years left or that they they kept changing their minds, its just that the engineers were merely projecting as far as they were prepared to go. It was another way of saying that they found nothing structurally unsound. “Useful life” is a strange concept – the useful life of a house is assessed at 50 years, but we all know there are hundreds of thousands of them older than that and going well.

Probably the main issue that the community and the Council was concerned about was the narrowness and the consequent lack of safety, particularly for cyclists. It was also well known that some pedestrians were walking across the railway bridge and that trucks sometimes stopped to let an oncoming truck through.

The Council received a lot of requests for a pedestrian/cycle clip-on and application had been put in to NZTA for subsidy. It was on their list, but hadn’t got far enough up it. In the event it became unlikely because the new National-led overnment changed its priorities away from pedestrian and cycle facilities and towards roads, particularly major motorway projects, mostly in the North Island. This has also meant that the clip-on on the old Waimakariri bridge, which is supported by both us and Christchurch (it’s on our boundary) is going nowhere. It is also on the regional NZTA list of priorities but is unlikely to gain subsidy unless there is a change of government priorities.

An important change came in 2010 when it was discovered that the river was scouring under one of the piers. The bridge had to be jacked up and the temporary steel support put in place. The other piers were also checked, of course, and it was confirmed that other piers were in place but vulnerable. Note that this is not a problem with the structure per se – it’s with the riverbed and the depth of the piers. Old photos show that the riverbed was much higher when the bridge was built.

None of this was known before 2010. The steps that were taken then were to raise the bridge in NZTA’s priorities. The periodic closures of the bridge in high water helped the case, as did the likelihood that piers would have to be progressively replaced with steel structures. It also helps the case that the detour is long.

I want to emphasise that none of the problem with the depth of the piers and the scouring was known before 2010.

My assumption of what happened on Monday is that the pier was scoured out, and with nothing under it, it simply dropped out. Photos of the bridge under construction show that the steel reinforcing in the top of the piers was designed to hold the deck laterally on to the pier, i.e. to stop it moving sideways. The reinforcing rods are verticle and would not prevent the pier from dropping.

The NZTA programme is a three-year one and we are just entering its second year. The design work that has been approved is under way. We were hacked off that the entire job was not in the programme, but there was a remote hope that the once the design work was done NZTA would have the information they needed and that our project might replace an approved project that wasn’t going to get done.

Once the scouring issue revealed itself, the cycle clip-on project was dropped. We needed a new bridge – now.

So:

  • The problem that is going to get the bridge replaced revealed itself only in 2010.
  • The NZTA programme works in three-year cycles and the latest programme was not approved until 2012 (obviously the previous one was 2009).
  • NZTA say they need more information – the design work, which they are subsidising, will provide that.
  • NZTA’s programmes are heavily driven by government priorities.
  • We are still not guaranteed NZTA subsidy, but it will go the Board in July.

The bridge is the only major project that we have on our books that is not earthquake-related. The Kaiapoi infrastructure rebuild comes mainly out of insurance and government grants. The Kaiapoi Aquatic Centre is largely funded by insurance and grants. We have a grant that will cover about 50% of the Kaiapoi riverbank / wharf etc (a $4m job in total), the rest is from rates. The Kaiapoi Library and Museum, an $11m job, has a an element of insurance in it, but is mostly funded by ratepayers. The Rangiora Town Hall (partly earthquake-related) is totally rates funded, as are Kaiapoi and Rangiora town centres restoration. The latter are not, strictly speaking, earthquake jobs, but are being brought forward to help revitalise the town centres (Kaiapoi has an earthquake element). The Oxford Town Hall will be part strengthening and part rebuild and will cost $2m, all out of rates. Note that we can collect insurance for earthquake damage but not where a building is earthquake-prone.

So, despite the earthquake, we have kept the bridge as a top priority and budgeted for its replacement. However, we really need the $6m or so from the government. I think it is something of an achievement to be able to keep average rates (I stress average) to 5.1% max for the first 3 years and under 4% for the remaining 7 years of the current 10-year plan, given what we are facing. Those percentages include an allowance of about 3% for inflation.

A small point: Cones Road was never State Highway. The original State Highway 72 went from Woodend to Winchester. After it lost its SH status, it was labelled “Route 72” and “Inland Scenic Route”, but this is unofficial and apart from other SHs around Mt Hutt and Geraldine became all local road for the various councils. At some later point it was decided to run the Inland Scenic Route from Rangiora to Amberley, rather than to Woodend – possibly to connect it to Hurunui’s and Kaikoura’s Alpine Pacific Triangle.

You ask how you can help. The voice of the community coming direct from the community can always help. Obviously there are the politicians (the local ones have got the message loud and clear!) such as local MPs on both sides of the river – I get the impression some residents north of the river do not realise they are in the Kaikoura electorate. The Minister of Transport is Gerry Brownlee. The Labour spokesperson is Phil Twiford. I’m not sure about the other parties’ spokespersons. Richard Prosser MP (NZ First) lives in Marshmans Road.

Our next step with NZTA is their July Board meeting. Further information from the design work currently being done, plus the current situation, will be put before that meeting. I don’t know how we will get on, but I would presume they have some emergency funds available. $6m (if that is what it is) is not huge in the national scheme of things, but it means a lot to ratepayers.

With regard to the present bridge, we will have to keep it open until a new one is finished. We could do quite a few repairs like that done in 2010 for way less than the cost of a new bridge, but we wouldn’t want to go there, because, as we all know, the bridge is totally inadequate for modern requirements. The 2010 repair was effected without closing the bridge so I suppose that could happen again over the current months if we encountered more problems. The estimated actual build-time of the new bridge, after preliminary and detailed design work, calling and awarding tenders, etc. is about one year.

Yes, we are considering holding a public meeting or meetings.

I hope this all gives you some background – and thanks for writing to Colin King!

Regards

David

 

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4 Responses to “A Letter About the Ashley Bridge and My Reply”

  1. Compass Says:

    Dear Sir.
    Having waited for 40 years to see the Southern Motorway go in, this suggestion won’t be valid until 2053, but at some stage soon, there will need to be the Rolleston to Rangiora bypass, roughly following Two Chain Rd, and skirting between Ashley and Sefton.

    Think NOW about aligning any new bridge in that directions and realign the Asley\Loburn roads to that bridge.

    It WILL be needed one day in the not too distant future!

    Compass.

    • David Ayers Says:

      Hello Compass. Hmmmm. I think that be a little bit too far! We know that not all that much traffic bypasses Christchurch, or wants to. Most traffic to the west of the city is actually generated by the city itself.

  2. Richard Prosser Says:

    Hi David

    I have spoken with Colin – who funnily enough is my MP, as I live north of the Ashley – this morning, and he is going to try to organise a meeting with Gerry Brownlee for this week. Everyone knows how important this bridge is and we are very keen to present a united front and find a solution as quickly as possible.

    Keep up the pressure, we’re on your side.

    Cheers

    Richard Prosser MP
    NZ First

  3. TamaraB Says:

    Mr. Ayers,
    Thank you for your detailed explanation regarding the Council’s status with the bridge to date, along with NZTA’s funding information. Being a recent resident on the Northern side of the bridge I am well aware that we sit in the Kaikoura electorate. I feel that it is important to note that I believe that our interests are not being thoroughly represented by our “local” MP whom I wrote to prior to the last national elections. At the time I expressed concern that residents in the electorate who are affected by the earthquake would not have an available national level advocate should the need arise. I raised the question as to how he would approach this as the impact of the earthquakes had affected many in his electorate. To date, I am yet to receive a reply from Mr.King , but have received several replies from his administration stating that I can expect to hear from Mr.King soon. You can imagine that this lack of response has diminished the small amount of confidence I had to begin with.While I realise that these electorate boundaries are not the responsibility of local government, to read your suggestion that we contact our local MP’s does not fill me with any optimism whatsoever. However, I will still give it a go. It can’t hurt to try can it.

    Thanks again. Your communication efforts are appreciated.

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