Manawatu Gorge opens to two-way traffic
The Manawatu Gorge is today open to traffic in both directions, 24 hours a day - something that has not happened in more than a year.
While two parts of the troubled section of State Highway 3 are still down to one lane, traffic has this morning been allowed through the gorge from both ends.
Previously, in the few weeks the gorge road has been open since the first in a series of slips on August 18 last year, traffic flowed only in one direction during the day.
NZ Transport Agency Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal said traffic could now go in both directions all the time - for the first time since the gorge closed last year.
"While it's not two lanes the whole way through, it's a huge leap forward and a sign that the end is near. It's been achieved ahead of schedule by a very dedicated crew, and they've earned a long holiday when all this is over," Mr McGonigal said.
While the gorge can now accommodate all the traffic that has previously been diverted onto the alternative routes, there may be minor closures in coming weeks to enable further work to be completed.
"Having two lanes up and running means that everyone who has been patiently winding their way through the alternative routes can now return to the Manawatu Gorge, and save themselves time, petrol and peace of mind while they're at it.
"This will also bring a bit more serenity to the residents of Ashhurst during the day, while also directing more motorists through Woodville's newly remodelled business district."
Motorists had used the Pahiatua Track and Saddle Rd while the gorge road was shut, resulting in less traffic through Woodville and disruptive changes to traffic patterns in Ashhurst.
Mr McGonigal is urging motorists to keep their eyes peeled for signs, as restrictions or closures could still happen at short notice, depending on weather conditions and what work is required onsite.
Mr McGonigal said the the transport agency was continuing the final stages of work on the new section of highway through the gorge, such as rockfall netting to protect motorists from debris.
He said the road remained a construction site, and drivers were required to stick to the 30kmh speed restrictions to keep workers and other motorists safe.
Mr McGonigal said there were two small sections which were still down to one lane - at the Woodville end of the slip where crews were still at work, and also about 500 metres further towards Woodville, following damage caused by an isolated rock spill.
"Courtesy of Murphy's Law, we've had an isolated rock spill a few hundred metres down the road, just as we were getting ready to open the gorge to two lanes. We've ensured that the hillside is secure, but we'll need to fix the damage which may mean briefly shutting the highway at a later date."
Mr McGonigal said contractors would continue to patrol the alternative routes to carry out repairs and maintenance work.