‘This time we will get there’

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A long-awaited pedestrian river bridge in Hamilton looks set to finally become a reality, connecting the central city to Parana Park.

The bridge, a Rotary initiative, has been put forward among proposals for government-assisted infrastructure projects to help boost the economy under Covid-19.

It will provide a vital pedestrian and cycling connection between the central city and Hamilton East, feeding into a planned city to university link.

Rotary picked up the idea of a pedestrian-cycleway bridge as a project for 2024 to mark 100 years of being active in Hamilton, and developed it in discussion with key players including the city council and Momentum Waikato.

Deputy mayor Geoff Taylor said the question was not if the bridge would be built, but when.

“We may get support from the Government in this package or we may not but the planning is now in place and I know at some stage in the near future it will certainly happen,” he said.

“I really congratulate Rotary and Momentum Waikato for getting behind this project. We’ve wanted a pedestrian bridge for 30 to 40 years – this time we’re going to get there.”

It is part of a package of 23 shovel-ready projects worth $1.5 billion pitched by the city council and Waikato and Waipā district councils, as the government looks to invest in infrastructure to support post-lockdown economic recovery.

Hamilton Central Rotary past president and centennial spokesperson Don Law was delighted at the bridge’s inclusion.

He said the Rotary Bridge stood out when members were mulling centenary options. It represented an opportunity to do something for everyone in the city, and they enlisted Momentum Waikato to undertake a feasibility study. Other Hamilton Rotary groups have supported the idea, and Law said that he, John Gallagher and Momentum had a warm reception when they presented the idea to council.

“Hamilton is in need of something that puts us on the map in terms of pedestrian cycleway and, with the Te Awa cycle trail, it makes good sense to have that connection between east and west sides of the river.”

The timing looks better than at any time in the past with growth in inner city residents, the  Waikato Regional Theatre set to open in two years and the council emphasis on developing the riverside.

Taylor said another key project is to connect the new theatre to Victoria on the River through two raised boardwalks.

“This is vital because the theatre construction will begin soon and the aim is to create a walking and cycling link with fantastic views of the river and places for hospitality all the way from the museum, up past the theatre, Sky City Casino and north to the hotels.”

The package also includes a covered landing with performance space alongside a new central city jetty which would link to Waikato Museum.

Other central city projects in the stimulus package include new bus routes, cycling and walking connections and a new inner city rail station.

Law said Rotary had support for the bridge from Waikato University, and had also spoken to Perrys about the cycle bridge near Ngāruawāhia. He said the Rotary bridge could connect with the Te Awa cycleway.

Taylor, who chairs the council’s high-powered CBD/River Plan working group, said the cycleway component will be key, helping the university and CBD link better and potentially also helping create an east-west link incorporating the western rail trail.

A Hamilton footbridge has proved a tough nut to crack over several decades, with multiple plans, including the Millennium Bridge, failing to reach fruition.

Momentum Waikato chief executive Kelvyn Eglinton expects those earlier efforts will feed into the current plan.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is not reinvent the wheel,” he said.

He expects consultation will include iwi and Waikato Regional Council, and key considerations are likely to be finding the best location, size of the bridge, initial cost and where that funding might come from.

Momentum has a focus on transformational projects, and can draw on considerable experience from developing the regional theatre, but Eglinton stressed that its input is for the early stages and that it is very much Rotary’s project and Rotary’s bridge.

“What Momentum is trying to do is help get significant projects to the line,” he says.

Law said Rotary will work with the council and will need business support to make the multi-million dollar bridge a reality.

“Are we able to do something that makes Hamilton stand out as a city, and can we raise the money for a bridge that Hamilton can be proud of in the future?” he said.

“I was over in Adelaide last year and beside the Adelaide Oval, they have a beautiful bridge going across to it.

“And I think that’s what Hamilton needs.”

Other projects pitched to the government by the three councils include an enhancement of the Hamilton to Auckland passenger rail service, support for the Ruakura inland port, Peacocke infrastructure and an upgrade of the airport terminal building and completion of the Te Awa Cycleway.

Councils have been tackling Covid-19 on multiple fronts, which includes Hamilton boosting its rates rebate scheme for people who lose their jobs and waiving rent for community groups and businesses that are unable to pay, among a range of initiatives. It is also funding a new phone-based support centre that will provide advice and assistance to organisations affected by the Covid-19 crisis, in an initiative led by Te Waka.

The council has delayed adoption of its annual plan by a month to help it respond to Covid-19.

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