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Our bridges and structures

Updated: 16 July 2012

Crossing spectacular but challenging landscapes, New Zealand's state highway network relies on a large number of bridges and structures. We're responsible for maintaining nearly 4200 bridges and large culverts. We also maintain other structures, including tunnels, retaining walls, sea walls, footbridges, sign gantries and stock underpasses.

Types of bridges

The bridges on our network range from major, multi-lane motorway bridges and multi-span bridges to single-span, single-lane structures. They are mostly built of concrete and steel, although there is still a small number of masonry and timber structures.

All bridges, large culverts and tunnels are given structure numbers based on their approximate displacement, to the nearest 100 metres, from the preceding 'reference station' (reference stations are 'benchmarks' along a highway, generally every 16 kilometres approximately).

For example:

  • RS 232 + 8.24km (232 + 8.24 = 240.24) = Bridge 2402
  • RS 232 + 11.56km (232 + 11.56 = 243.56) = Bridge 2436
  • RS 262 + 11.52km (262 + 11.52 = 273.52) = Bridge 2735

The structure numbers are unique for each state highway but can be replicated for different state highways.

Bridge asset information

We hold structural details of all our bridges within our Bridge Data System (BDS). We're enhancing our database to also hold condition data. This will improve our ability to track the condition of all our structures.

Bridge maintenance

In keeping with international best practice in bridge management, every bridge undergoes a general inspection every two years and a more detailed inspection every six years. Some have even more rigorous inspection programmes, designed to identify and track changes in their condition.

Seismic retrofits

In 1996 we began a seismic screening programme to identify existing bridges that may sustain damage in an earthquake. Following this, we first upgraded strategic bridges, such as Wellington's Thorndon Overbridge and Auckland's Harbour Bridge.

Subsequently, we've completed the upgrading of bridges on high importance routes needing minor upgrades and we're completing the remaining upgrade of low risk work on an annual basis.

We're also progressing with detailed assessments and upgrade works for the highest priority bridges that require significant upgrading.

Bridge lifting

Occasionally, we need to lift bridges. This is usually because a river is experiencing a build up of gravel and rock. Notably, we lifted the SH49 Whangaehu River bridge before the Mt Ruapehu lahar of March 2007.

Our Bailey bridge service

We offer a complete Bailey bridge design, build, maintenance and transport service for contractors, roading agencies and private contractors. Find out more.

Read more about our achievements and future plans for some of New Zealand's key bridges and structures:

Facts and figures

  • New Zealand's longest bridge is the Rakaia River Bridge on State Highway 1: 1757 metres.
  • The longest tunnel is the SH74 Lyttelton Tunnel: 1945 metres.
  • The oldest bridge is the SH1S Waianakarua South River Bridge: built in 1868.
  • There are still 185 single-lane bridges and 14 timber bridges on state highways.

Some of our bridges

SH49 Whangaehu (elevation aerial).

SH49 Whangaehu (elevation aerial). (JPG, 166KB)

SH49 Whangaehu (lahar aerial).

SH49 Whangaehu (lahar aerial). (JPG, 86KB)

SH49 Whangaehu River.

SH49 Whangaehu River. (JPG, 66KB)

SH63 Wairau.

SH63 Wairau.(JPG, 202KB)

SH73 Otira (aerial view).

SH73 Otira (aerial view). (JPG, 51KB)

SH73 Otira.

SH73 Otira. (JPG, 204KB)

SH3 Mokau.

SH3 Mokau. (JPG, 64KB)

SH6 Cook River.

SH6 Cook River. (JPG, 53KB)

SH3 Kawerau River.

SH3 Kawarau River. (JPG, 184KB)

SH6 Cook River.

SH1N Hillcrest overbridge. (JPG, 61KB)

Some of our tunnels

SH94 Homer Tunnel.

SH94 Homer Tunnel. (JPG, 93KB)

SH1N Johnstones Tunnel.

SH1N Johnstones Tunnel. (JPG, 43KB)