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Minister of Transport Michael Wood announced the construction of a new bridge along SH25A on May 9. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Bridge first step towards future-proof roads

A bridge is the chosen option to reconnect State Highway 25A between Kōpū and Hikuai, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced on May 9.

The minister said the bridge was slated to open in early 2024, at a cost of approximately $30- 40 million.

But with the Coromandel region experiencing an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, it’s not just SH25A which is coming under scrutiny.

Minister Wood said futureproofing was a key part of the process Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency was undertaking with the repair of the slip, and the agency was also looking at the Coromandel as a whole.

“We do anticipate seeing a lot more weather events causing disruption on our roads – this is the reality of living in an era of climate change,” he said.

“There’s further work going on in terms of the broader roading networks.

“We are increasingly building climate change adaptation into our infrastructure planning.”

Waka Kotahi general manager of transport services Brett Gliddon said work would be ongoing along the entire closed stretch of SH25A, as well as at the slip site itself.

“We are going to look at the whole corridor as well because [the bridge] will actually end up being very resilient and some of the other parts of the corridor not so resilient,” he said.

In other parts of the peninsula, work has been ongoing to restore as many access points as possible. The Tapu-Coroglen Rd, also closed due to slips, will have a temporary bypass available by June, restoring access between the east and west coasts.

“It’s a slightly challenging road, but it will provide a little bit more connectivity and resilience,” the minister said.

“The route will be single-lane, it will have limited visibility and does have tight corners.”

Work is also being undertaken along SH25, alongside the work to clear storm damage.

In Ruamahunga, Waka Kotahi is installing a 40 metre long rockfill seawall to shore up the eroded embankment. In Kūaotunu geotech drilling was undertaken last week to investigate permanent repair options for the storm damage. The Onetai bridge on SH26 will be upgraded to a climate-friendly laminate timber material designed to be safer, more durable and harder-wearing than traditional concrete or steel bridges. And Waka Kotahi has also spoken of the need for increased resilience works in the slip-prone Karangahake Gorge on SH2.

“Further stabilisation of the bank will be carried out this year on SH2 near Crown Hill Rd,” Waka Kotahi system manager Cara Lauder said.

Temporary speed restrictions are also likely to be established on SH25 for safety and to protect the road from damage caused by increased traffic volumes.

Thames Coromandel District Mayor Len Salt has long been vocal about the need for a resilient and future-proofed roading network in the region.

“Our district has struggled with decades of under-investment in our roading and infrastructure networks,” he said.

“We have amplified our efforts at a regional and national government level to get investment in our entire district for a roading network that helps to prepare us for future events, to make us climate change resilient and able to cope with what is coming.” 

Hauraki District Mayor Toby Adams said the closure of SH25A was also having a knock-on effect on Hauraki roads.

“We’re seeing an increased load of traffic coming through our areas, which also puts pressure on our network and our local roads, and also the state highway,” he said.

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson was also worried about the state of the roads, warning that times would still be tough for a while longer.

“Alternate routes around the Peninsula remain fragile, with communities vulnerable to further closures over winter,” he said. “The government and NZTA must be focused on getting SH25A reopened as soon as possible.”

Waka Kotahi has previously stated: “beyond the initial emergency response, our focus also includes long-term solutions so that SH25 and SH25A remain resilient”.

In 2022, the agency released their national adaptation plan aiming to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, enhance adaptive capacity and strengthen resilience across New Zealand’s roading network.

SH25A will receive a bridge to repair the crater in the road caused by Cyclone Gabrielle in January. It is estimated to cost between $30-40 million, and is forecast to open in early 2024.

“This work is being funded through the government’s $250 million top-up to the National Land Transport Programme fund to support the recovery,” Minister Wood said.

Tenders are already underway, and formal construction is expected to begin at the end of June.

“A bridge was selected as it will reconnect the Coromandel Peninsula in the shortest period of time possible, and it is the safest and most resilient option,” Minister Wood said.

“Another key advantage of the bridge option is that it means work can continue over the winter period, because much of the construction of the bridge can
occur offsite.”

The bridge will be two lanes, and at a minimum will reinstate the portion of road which is missing. Walking and cycling options will be looked at as part of the design process.

Mayor Len Salt said he was still focused on helping businesses survive until the road was open.

“We’ve got an idea of that timeline so it’s really good to have that certainty,” he said.

“What we need now [is] to make sure we do everything we can to try and get support for those businesses affected through this period. Knowing that there’s a bridge being built is part of it, surviving until the road is open is the next part of it.”

Mayor Salt said he needed the community to continue to reach out to him, and he would continue to press the government to ensure relief was available. “The minister’s saying the support that needs to come through to specific businesses will be more targeted,” he said, adding that he knew the communities along the East Coast were struggling particularly hard.

Mayor Salt said around $7 million had already been distributed to businesses throughout the district, through the mayoral relief fund and the government’s business support grant.

A third round of government funding is currently being distributed to councils in affected regions to aid with business recovery. 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air