Saturday, September 27, 2008

Culvert Complications: bridging the Oakley Creek (1897-1901)

Over a hundred years ago, what is now Auckland City was made up of a number of borough councils, road boards, as well as the city council. Any major works on roads which crossed the territorial boundaries of authorities who depended heavily on what rates they collected in their own area to determine what they could or could not afford was bound to create discussion and sometimes even argument. So it was when the old wooden Oakley Creek bridge between Waterview and Pt Chevalier had come to the end of its days.

This may have been the same wooden bridge constructed by the Auckland Provincial Council in the 1850s, to serve the needs of traffic over the then barely-formed Great North Road, used mainly for movement of stock from West Auckland. Waterview resident Mina Cox even captured the bridge in a well-known painting now lodged with the Auckland Art Gallery. But by 1897, it was considered dangerous to heavy traffic. The Avondale Road Board was the first to make a move, and through the whole process led the project to replace the bridge. When the government’s district engineer C. R. Vickerman condemned the bridge later that year, the Avondale Board through John Bollard (MP for Eden) urged the Public Works department to replace it. Instead, the department issued a warrant allowing for the work to go ahead – to be done by the local authorities.

Another engineer named Boylan was called in. His plans were approved by both Avondale and Pt Chevalier, but the latter raised the valid point that, as the government owned a substantial amount of land in their district, they should pay at least a third of the cost. Unfortunately, the government initially disagreed with that point of view. Into 1898, and the two neighbours disagreed even as to how the bridge should be repaired. Now it was 1899. A senior magistrate named Thomas Hutchinson was appointed to run a commission of inquiry about the bridge and how it should be funded. Whatever the conclusions of that inquiry were, Pt Chevalier felt they were unjust, and were in a huff by early 1900. Avondale went ahead and repaired the bridge as best as they could, but late in 1900 a breakthrough: the government, under pressure from Bollard, relented and agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost of constructing a culvert to replace the old bridge. Avondale asked other local bodies to contribute: Waitemata County (declined), Grey Lynn (£30), Arch Hill (£20), Auckland City (declined) and Pt Chevalier (£19 and 3d). The total contract (initially) came to £936 12/-.

Things were still not trouble-free yet. The contractor who won the tender in March 1901, David L. Cochrane, came to financial grief by July of that year, unable to pay his workmen’s wages. The Avondale Board had to tender for the remaining work (completed by a Mr. Henry by October 1901). Finally, there was a permanent connection, spanning the Oakley Creek, between Avondale and Pt Chevalier. The culvert remains there today, under one of the busiest roads in Auckland, only altered by Auckland City Council in 1956 by an extension further west along the creek, at the time of the construction of the North-Western motorway.

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