The First Crossing – A history of the Māngere Bridge

The First Crossing – A history of the Māngere Bridge

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An intriguing history of multiple crossings between Onehunga and Māngere Bridge penned by local scribe Robyn Martin

The Manukau Harbour has always been an important strategic link connecting southern and northern settlements – from Māori portage of waka and supplies through to the more recent motorway bridges and the popular Old Māngere Bridge.

One legend has it that there was an early crossing point in the area that consisted of a number of stepping stones, and another describes a naturally formed basalt rock causeway. At low tide, local iwi used this passage so that they could cross on foot between Māngere and Onehunga. These stones/causeway are nowhere to be seen today, covered in several feet of silt.

In 1847, the first ferry service between Onehunga and Māngere was established, where passengers would need to raise a flag on the Māngere shore to signal the ferry operator. In 1858, a large section of the rock walkway was destroyed with dynamite, to allow for more intensive shipping in the harbour.

passengers would need to raise a flag on the Māngere shore to signal the ferry operator

In 1872, tenders for the development of a bridge were proposed. Designed by the Reverend Dr Arthur Guyon Purchas and opened in January 1875, the narrow timber truss bridge featured 20 spans of 12.2 metres supported by jarrah timber piles from Australia, costing £14,997 to build. The jarrah piles soon began to be attacked by shipworms, and by 1910, more than 30 of the piles had been replaced, as well as the decking. The bridge was also single-lane, and so narrow that pedestrians could barely pass a vehicle safely. It was often unsuitable for pedestrians due to large number of horses and livestock using the bridge, and for residents in the area, the animals often caused noise issues at night, such as when horses would slip on wet surfaces. The bridge was eventually considered structurally unsound and closed in 1914, before being fully demolished.

A plan to replace the old wooden bridge was adopted by Māngere ratepayers in May 1911. Designed by R.F. Moore, the designer of Grafton Bridge and Queens Wharf, it was also built by the same company, the Ferro-Concrete Company of Australasia (in a time when almost all bridges in the country were being built by the Public Works Department). The 246-metre (807 ft) 17-span ferro-concrete bridge was constructed between 1912 and 1916,and at the time was known as the New Mangere Bridge. In late 1913, scoria from Māngere Mountain was used to create a filled wall on the Māngere side of the bridge, while construction of the ferro-concrete structure continued through 1914 and 1915.

View during the rebuilding of the Māngere bridge over the Manukau Harbour showing the old bridge and the earth filling for the new bridge. July 1914. Image: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections JTD-19J-02681-1

The ferro-concrete beams and piles of the bridge were created using prefabricated concrete, a very unusual method of construction in New Zealand at the time. This ferro-concrete bridge with driven concrete piles was considered a substantial engineering achievement in its time. With a width of 11.6m, it allowed for a double tram track. The bridge however did not provide for enough clearance to let anything but small boats pass under it. A small section of the bridge opened in January 1915, while construction on the full structure continued and dismantling work on the old bridge began. The bridge was officially opened on 31 May 1915 by Prime Minister William Massey, a resident of Māngere. It cost approximately ₤22,000 – about $0.5 million in today’s terms.

this ferro-concrete bridge with driven concrete piles was considered a substantial engineering achievement in its time

By 1927, repair works on the concrete structure were needed due to degradation.

In 1966, the bridge began to experience much higher traffic volumes after the opening of the new Auckland International Airport at Māngere. It soon proved to have too little capacity, and sinking foundation piles created issues. A temporary bailey bridge was erected by the Ministry of Works in 1980, covering the most deteriorated parts of the bridge. The bridge was closed in 1983 to motor vehicles.

A temporary bailey bridge was erected by the Ministry of Works in 1980. Image: Archives New Zealand reference – ZZZZ A1671/1/a

So a third Mangere Bridge was needed. The new bridge, completed in 1983, carried a four-lane motorway with a cycle and pedestrian path suspended under the western side. By 2000, this bridge was carrying 80,000 vehicles daily and had become prone to congestion.

In 2010, a duplication of the 1983 bridge was opened on its eastern side. This doubled the number of general traffic lanes to eight and provided an additional two for buses, for a total capacity of 10 lanes across the harbour. The project had been delayed by disagreements over design and funding, and over the scope of the bridge project and an associated interchange – with the interchange being scaled down after concerns from the local community.

Due to problems with the quality of the concrete and steel, it was initially envisioned that the old bridge would be dismantled and replaced by a newly designed footbridge. However there were complaints about this course of action and plans for its removal were not finalised until 2012.  Construction of a replacement structure, designed for walking, cycling and fishing, was scheduled for 2015, the centenary of the opening of the old bridge.

The New Zealand Transport agency Waka Kotahi dismantled the 1912 Māngere Bridge in 2018 due to safety issues. The new bridge, Ngā Hau Māngere, was built on the same abutments as the previous bridge, further from the port and allowing enough clearance for small boats to pass underneath. The bridge is eight metres wide and up to 12 metres wide in some bays to enable fishing activities. Valuable community feedback helped shape the design and layout of the new bridge. In particular the replacement bridge needed to ensure the important walking and cycling connection between communities was maintained as well as creating an appealing public space.

The new bridge, named Ngā Hau Māngere, features multi-coloured lighting.

The new bridge, named Ngā Hau Māngere opened on 27 August 2022 – see our story.

Story by Robyn Martin for Friends of the Farm

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