9 April 2019
A team comprising New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) engineers and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) contractors are hoping to reopen on Friday the washed-out 170-metre Waiho Bridge, which is costing the Westland community $3 million a day in lost tourism income.
The NZDF sent New Zealand Army engineers to work with NZTA and engineering and construction company Downer to rebuild the Waiho Bridge, a seven-span Bailey bridge crossing Waiho River that was washed away during heavy rain on 26 March.
A Bailey bridge is a type of portable, pre-fabricated truss bridge developed by the British for military use during the Second World War. The Waiho Bridge is one of the longest Bailey bridges Army engineers have been involved in constructing since that war.
NZTA system manager Pete Connors said rebuilding the Waiho Bridge required a group of highly skilled construction and design staff working on both sides of the river.
“In addition to the abutment and bank rebuilds by a Fulton Hogan team and other sub-contractors, there was a lot of essential work off-site involving engineering designers, geotechnical advisors and river engineers, as well as fabrication work for key components,” Mr Connors said.
The bridge was expected to reopen on Friday, he said.
Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said the loss of the bridge had cut off access between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef and caused the community, which relies mainly on tourism, to lose up to $3 million a day in tourism income.
Franz Josef Glacier is a big tourist attraction on the West Coast, drawing up to 1.1 million tourists a year.
Residents of South Westland were grateful to the team of about 50 NZDF and NZTA staff rebuilding the vital structure, which had been the lifeblood of their community, Mr Smith said.
“The support of the NZDF and contractors has been a huge morale boost for our community – no question about that,” he said.
“They have been working so hard and we hope we can show them the Franz Josef Glacier and other attractions before they leave, to show our appreciation.”
Second Lieutenant Laura Bayfield, who is leading the NZDF engineering contingent at South Westland, said residents had given them an extremely warm welcome.
“It’s awesome to be here to help out the community and support the NZ Transport Agency,” she said.
“While at the township we’ve had locals approach us, thanking the NZDF for helping.”