Southland's crumbling bridges make farmer's 6km drive a 22km trip

Southland's bridge network is falling apart and it's costing not only businesses in the region, but the consumer at home.

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The structures have fallen into such disarray there is now not enough money to fix the problem. Source: 1 NEWS

The structures are fallen into such disarray, there is not enough money to fix the problem and farmers are having to pay more just to get from A to B.

Stefan du Plessis runs two farms on opposite sides of the Oreti River.

Getting around was easy with just a six-kilometre drive over the Benmore Bridge, but not anymore.

“Since the bridge has been gone, we've had to do a detour, up to 22 kilometres.”

The bridge was collapsing and closed in late 2018. The Southland flood last year damaged it beyond repair and it’s now too costly to replace.

But du Plessis says it’s a priceless piece of infrastructure.

Road closed sign on a Southland bridge. Source: 1 NEWS

“It's easily two hours wasted a day sitting on a road trying to manage the two properties so that just means extra cost.”

Down the road and there’s another dodgy bridge. A local milk tanker can't access a farm just 200 metres over the river.

The pass is open, but no longer capable of carrying heavy vehicles.

“We have to choose an alternative route which involves another 17 kilometres of distance, we visit this site roughly 200 times a year, with travel both ways we are looking at an extra 3000 litres of fuel a year,” Brett Hamilton from Southern Milk Transport said.

There are more than 1000 bridges and underpasses across Southland's 5000km roading network.

Sixty have weight restrictions in place and six have closed completely.

Something the council is well aware of.

“To be honest, it's the failing of council in the past, we've kicked the can along the road to long, sweated the assets is the term, and while we've realised they're failing… but now it's time Southland that we're picking up and doing this.”

The district council asked Waka Kotahi Transport Agency for close to $100 million to help assist its bridge maintenance programme.

The council did not receive that amount, instead they're $15 million short, meaning some repairs could take longer.

The council is now deciding how to make up the shortfall.

“The work we had for it was totally justified and yeah we need to re-evaluate where we are."

Waka Kotahi told 1 NEWS they could not pay out the requested amount but says the council did receive more money compared to the last funding round.

“We’ve got real challenge in our supply chain already. We can't afford to have our roads slow us down and slow the movement of goods around because ultimately Kiwi consumers are going to pay when they go to the supermarket," Nick Leggett from the Road Transport Forum said.

Du Plessis says it's important voices down south are heard.

"We can't change the infrastructure, or the outlay of Southland and it needs these accesses,” he said.