A dawn Karakia marked the re-opening of the Matapihi footbridge today, which has been closed for the summer while urgent repairs were made to the pedestrian link across the harbour.
The crowd of nearly 100 people that attended the dawn ceremony on the Matapihi side with karakia led by Puhirake Ihaka. They then tested the bridge with a walk across to Tauranga.
The Matapihi Rail Bridge re-opened to pedestrians today after being closed for repairs over summer.
“You didn’t know it this morning but you were the crash test dummies,” says Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby on the city side of the bridge after the gathering had walked across.
“As we walked across you would have realised how challenging that was and when the train came across, it must have been helpful to understand what it must have been like before the first bridge 57 years ago.
“As I understand it, it was the local (Matapihi) community of 57 years ago that actually fundraised and virtually did it on their own. But this time it was funded by the New Zealand Transport Agency, Kiwirail and Tauranga City Council, so I think it’s a tremendous success.”
The rail bridge was built in 1924, but the attached walkway wasn’t built until 30 years later – after about 30 people had been killed trying to cross the harbour on the rail bridge. Most drowned after jumping into the harbour to avoid being run over by trains.
The walkway was closed to foot traffic on October 23, 2012 due to safety concerns arising as a result of an ongoing and long standing lack of maintenance.
The rebuild has taken a month longer than originally expected and estimated to have cost $770,000.
“When we became aware of the failing condition of this link it was never in dispute that it would be repaired,” says Stuart.
“It made our eyes water a bit about the cost of the repairs.
“It is a critical link between the two communities and is highly used every day of the week.”
Today the Matapihi footbridge is recognised by the council as an important access route for pedestrians and cyclists between Matapihi, the Bayfair/Arataki area and the city centre.
“This was probably the first element 57 years ago, of that network,” says Stuart.