Marlborough Express - Grove Road bridge & the Blenheim bypass debate

Columns
Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The current consultation process around replacing the Grove Road bridge has ignited fresh debate about the need for State Highway 1 to bypass central Blenheim.

I attended one of the public information sessions about the bridge at the Scenic Circle Hotel last week, where information was readily available for anyone who wished to make a submission or who was just interested.

It was pleasing to see people were engaging with this important consultation process about the new two-lane bridge project, for which the Government has allocated a budget of $17.5 million.

It was perhaps not surprising that the hot topic for most people I spoke to was a bypass, with views varying quite evenly on whether we needed it, or not.

This is a debate that has been ongoing for many years and I welcome all the thoughts from people who have come to see me to discuss this matter.

While there are benefits to diverting heavy vehicles around Blenheim, there are many other factors that must be carefully considered, such as the economic impact on Blenheim, and of course the cost of the bypass itself.

A bypass of any description would have to be economic and sensible.

It is also important to note that car counting data has clearly showed the vast majority of vehicles using the Grove Rd bridge were coming to and from Blenheim, i.e. locals and not travelling further afield. With a bypass in place, money would still need to be spent on the narrow, century-old bridge.

This is not to say a bypass will never happen.

As this newspaper reported last week, the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) is currently undertaking an in-depth review of State Highway 1 from Picton to Christchurch and the bypass is something that will be considered as part of that study. In my view, there are several other issues on State Highway 1 that need to be addressed in the review, both locally and further south within the Kaikoura electorate.

Those issues include Weld Pass south of Blenheim, the notorious one-lane Hurunui Bridge and the shortage of passing lanes between here and Christchurch. Once the review is publicly released – scheduled for later this year – there will be ample opportunity for public input and consultation.

I absolutely welcome any discussion that focuses on making our patch of State Highway 1 an easier, safer drive.

But in the meantime, our focus must be on the design of our new Grove Rd bridge.

Public submissions remain open until June 9, and I urge you to have your say.