Mayors welcome gorge announcement

Partially reopened by end of month, says NZTA

Last updated 16:00 10/05/2012
Manawatu Gorge slip - May 2012
MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A digger operator clears debris from the slip.

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LATEST: Mayors on both side of the Manawatu Gorge have applauded the announcement that State Highway 3 will reopen, in part, later this month.

The road through the Gorge has been closed since August 18 following a series of slips.

The NZ Transport Agency announced today that, from the end of May, one lane would be opened during the day, and both lanes would operate at night.

But it will be at least four months before the road fully reopens after inspections of the bridges this week revealed severe damage, which required them to be completely rebuilt.

"That's excellent news,'' Palmerston North City Mayor Jono Naylor said.

"To have some certainty will be a good relief, for people in Woodville and Ashhurst especially.''

Mr Naylor said while the announcement was good news for the city, people would still need to show patience while driving between Manawatu and Tararua.

Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said the road was reopening sooner than he had started to expect it would.

"The more I heard over the last week, the longer I thought it would have to take.''

While the four month timeline for the road to reopen completely would be disappointing it was "just one of those things we have to live with''.

He hoped the partially reopened gorge would mean more business for shops in Woodville, where retailers have said the closure has hammered their companies.

Reopening details announced:

The single lane during the day would only run from the Woodville end, meaning vehicles travelling from Ashhurst would still need to use the Saddle Rd alternative route.

The plans are being discussed with user groups and stakeholders this week to determine the most effective daytime arrangements.

NZTA state highways manager David McGonigal said the partial reopening was strictly on a weather permitting basis. The road would be closed if there were any concerns about the highway's stability or safety, he said.

"The team have done a phenomenal job in recent weeks removing the largest pile of dirt we've ever seen on our highway network, and while there's still plenty of work to go, having the gorge reopened to one lane will be a tremendous milestone.

The lower traffic volumes at night would make it safer to operate two lanes, he said.

"This will carry significant economic benefits, as a large amount of freight is transported at night, and it will also be safer for everyone. It also means the people of Ashhurst will finally be able to get a quiet night's sleep, which is the least they deserve after patiently bearing with us for the last nine months.''

NZTA would closely monitor the effectiveness of the partial reopening, and had not ruled out the possibility of allowing traffic to travel in both directions with a stop/go operation if it could be done safely.

"We appreciate that this will still not be an ideal situation for everyone, as people will still need to use the Saddle Road when they're travelling towards Woodville and Hawke's Bay during the day, but it's a great step forward that will certainly provide relief for the region.''

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Mr McGonigal said the slip damaged the bridges far beyond repair.

"The bridges are a complete write-off, so we need to start from scratch building new bridges - and that's a big job.

"Building a new bridge across this distance in this challenging location would normally take up to twelve months, but we're not prepared to keep motorists waiting that long so we'll be working 24/7 where possible and aiming to get them rebuilt within four months.''

Mr McGonigal thanked the public for its patience and the contractors for their work clearing the slip.

NZTA would continue its management of the alternative routes until the gorge fully reopened, he said.

- Manawatu Standard

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