MAYOR: Amber alerts signal new phase of second bridge need

Published: 27 July 2023

Our State Highway 1 bridge over the Ashburton River is becoming almost as famous as the Auckland Harbour Bridge – both have now been the subject of amber alerts issued by Waka Kotahi.

Sunday night’s amber alert locally meant our bridge was shut from 7pm until 6am, a precautionary closure because of the level of water and debris in the river and the need to monitor it in daylight.

Flows in the river had peaked and were well under half of that recorded in 2021, when the bridge also had to close after a pier sunk because of debris build up.

So is this now the new benchmark? The new trigger level for disruption, not only at Ashburton level, but for the whole South Island?

We know we need a second bridge and all the plans and business case are in place. The final box to tick is money and we are optimistic Government will come to the party with a contribution – every amber alert like last weekend’s will press home the need.

Every decent fresh in the river will also set our community on edge – will the bridge still be open when they return home from work, or from school? Will they be suddenly separated from family, or miss an important health appointment, or plane trip?

Rest assured we’ll be talking with Waka Kotahi about how these amber alerts work and how much notice they will give us before putting one in place. Council was given a heads up on Sunday afternoon that the agency was considering a precautionary closure – within five minutes of that being confirmed, we had the word out on our communications channels.

We’ve copped some unfair criticism that we were well behind neighbouring councils in advising of the closure, but they jumped the gun on this occasion before it was even confirmed. We chose not to create unnecessary alarm and wait until Waka Kotahi had actually made a decision.

Experience has taught us that in a crisis, people need certainty and reliable information. Anything else generates fear, anxiety and worry.

So, four days on, we are assessing damage to our roads. Council staff and contractors are sweeping the district looking at sealed and unsealed roads, cataloguing damage and updating the live closure map as they go. A report about the total damage will end up before Council and it may well be that we can claim some funds for emergency repairs from Waka Kotahi.

We know that roads are a priority for our community and are doing everything we can to improve our network. Bear with us, while we up our level of resilience to these events.

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