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'We've waited a long time' – Queenstown locals check out new $22 million Kawarau Falls bridge

A new $22 million Kawerau Falls Bridge has been unveiled in Queenstown today.

Hundreds turned out for the opening day of the vital State Highway link over Lake Wakatipu, as traffic boom outdated the old bridge. Source: 1 NEWS

The bridge is part of the state highway to Southland and acts as a vital link to the other side of Lake Wakatipu.

The original Kawerau Falls Bridge was built over a dam in the 1920s during New Zealand's last gold rush.

The dam was used to block the outlet from Lake Wakatipu, allowing access to those who had staked claims.

While the plan failed, the bridge remained.

For more than 90 years, motorists have been driving over the same one-lane bridge, with traffic becoming a major issue in recent years.

Jim Harland is the regional relationships South Island director for the NZTA.

"It's an important part of the transport network here. There's been a tremendous amount of growth of visitors and residents coming here, and what that means is there's congestion," Mr Harland says.

It’s hoped the new $22 million bridge, as well as other road projects, will improve the region’s transport network.

Fraser Wyllie is the managing director for McConnell Dowell who says the bridge has proven to be a challenge.

"The bridge is 252 metres long. It’s consumed 1,000 tonnes of steel and 5,000 tonnes of concrete," he says.

One lane will open for the holiday period, with traffic also continuing to use the old bridge.

Both lanes are expected to be operational by April of next year.

The old bridge will be kept for its heritage value and will be used by cyclists and pedestrians instead.