A new $270,000 pedestrian bridge at McLaren Falls is officially open to the public following a formal ceremony this morning.
The bridge was built with the purpose of making crossing the falls safer, as many people using the existing road bridge were in danger of being struck by vehicles due to the noise of the falls muffling approaching cars.
This morning, the group behind the project joined Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Ross Paterson and about 40 invitees, to celebrate the opening of the 13 metre-high footbridge, located upstream from the longstanding road bridge.
The McLaren Falls Environmental Enhancement Group has fought for the bridge since the need was identified in 2011.
Chaired by Kaimai resident Maret Manson, and backed by Kaimai Ward councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, the group set about getting Council’s approval for the then estimated $500,000 project.
“We needed it because it’s such a popular place,” says Margaret, who cut the ribbon alongside Maret this morning.
“Hundreds go there in the summer time, and they’re all on the bridge. It’s a single lane and they can’t hear the cars coming.
“We couldn’t afford to widen the current bridge and the structure wasn’t strong enough, but we could build a new one.”
The group faced multiple roadblocks, the biggest in June 2012 when council voted 7-5 against adding the footbridge to the Long Term Plan due to funding.
The project was to be deferred for three years, but Margaret refused to give up and pressed for a review.
“After the Long Term Plan was audited, I was able to get an amendment through to review it before December 2012, and refer it to the 2013 annual plan.”
A tick of approval was given last year and work began commenced six weeks ago.
“It was a challenge…but you have to ride those bad times and know you have to do your best.”
Council’s transportation manager Alex Finn says the design for the new bridge was presented to elected members and accepted in principle in December 2012, but other projects initially took priority.
He says the tender price to build the bridge was $265,000 - funded from district roading rates.
WBOPDC deputy CEO Gary Allis says along with the bridge’s approval was the decision to remove safety fencing from the road bridge, designed to prevent people jumping off it.
He says after years of fixing cut fencing and hearing of people climbing over, it was clear the safety precaution wasn’t working.
Additional high fencing, razor wire, or netting were also considered in the design of the pedestrian bridge, but it was decided they were likely to be just as ineffective, he says.
When the pedestrian bridge’s initial $500,000 concept was proposed concerns were raised the placement and design would make it more difficult and dangerous for dare-devil jumpers.
But Gary says the approved alternative design, costing $265,000, has different features.
“Jumping off either bridge is considered dangerous and should be avoided.”
Gary says the jumping behaviour is of serious concern to council, but there is nothing more they can do to prevent it.
“Jumping off the traffic bridge has occurred for many years and appears to be an activity that the thrill-seeking component of our community wishes to undertake.
“Council has a duty to warn of the dangers of jumping off the bridge, the individual is responsible for making the choice of whether or not to jump – and if they choose to jump, then they have to accept the consequences.”
Margaret believes McLaren Falls is the sole Western Bay place featured in the Lonely Planet Guide.
“It’s internationally a special spot. I’d call it a national treasure.”