Alternative South Island road 'imagined' as drones survey slips
Building a new inland highway to connect the upper South Island to Christchurch is "not out of the question" but could cost about $4 billion, a Wellington mapping company believes.
Critchlow Limited founder Steve Critchlow said the company, which employs 25 staff, had modelled what might be involved in upgrading the Molesworth Station track into a new route, for its own curiosity.
"We are promoting the fact we have got a really detailed map of the New Zealand transport system."
The route would require 180 kilometres of new state highway but the price tag was just a "rule of thumb" based on construction costs in the United States, he said.
New Zealand's wider high-tech mapping industry has been buzzing since the Kaikoura earthquake, which struck just two days before its annual awards.
Drones have been sent to survey slips, satellites assigned to provide extra aerial imagery and internet and hazard maps have been thrust into the limelight as the public and policy makers attempt to digest the consequences of the natural disaster.
"The challenge is everyone is running around doing things they think are useful but coordination is always the problem," Critchlow said. "Some small councils have got one person who is responsible for emergency management."
Prime Minister John Key last week cast doubt on whether damage to State Highway 1 would ever be repaired.
Steve Critchlow said one of the issues would be the environmental consequences of dumping millions of tonnes of rock from slips into the ocean, "although if the road wasn't there it would have fallen into the ocean anyway".
"The question for the Government is whether you want access down the coast, or inland, and how long it would take compared with clearing the rubble from the existing road.
"Look how long Transmission Gully is taking and it is not a very long road. It does beg the question of why you wouldn't just run a ferry to Lyttelton."
The Transport Agency has been contacted for comment.
Upgrading the Molesworth Station route would cut 112km off the existing undamaged route between Blenheim and Christchurch, which runs via Lewis Pass, and would only be 33km longer than a restored coastal route, Critchlow said.
The maximum gradient on the Molesworth route reaches 1:10 on the south bound descent into Hanmer Springs, but that is not as steep as Transmission Gully, he said.
Another drawback is the road climbs to about 1100 metres.
That would put it on a par with the alpine Desert Road which crosses North Island's Central Plateau and which can be blocked by snowfalls.
The public road from Seddon that runs into Molesworth is "pretty rough", but could be sorted out, Critchlow said.
"Then there is the section through Molesworth itself which is not too bad, runs along the river and is beautiful. And then there is the bit down to Hanmer before you are back on the state highway network."
NZ Tech chief executive Graeme Muller said spatial technology had played a large role in the rapid response to the earthquake.
- Wellington company Thundermaps has seen record traffic to its global database of more than 6 million dangerous locations since the quake.
- Eagle Technology, the New Zealand Defence Force and Land Information New Zealand arranged for satellite company Digital Globe to acquire imagery over the affected transport routes.
- Christchurch surveyors Eliot Sinclair used drones to survey and produce 3D models of landslides near Rotherham and a slip near Waiau for the Hurunui District Council. Wellington company Aurecon plans to use drones to generate 3D models of slips for Canterbury Civil Defence. Christchurch firm Fox and Associates was also contracted to use drones to survey the main Rotherham slip.
STATE HIGHWAY OPTIONS
Unpassable: Blenheim - Kaikoura - Christchurch (SH1): 312km
Unbuilt: Blenheim - Molesworth - Hanmer - Christchurch: 345km
Unpleasantly long: Blenheim - Wairau Valley - Lewis Pass - Christchurch: 457km
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