The largest slip to close a New Zealand road fell 200 days ago, but in just 14 more days it could be clear.
Although the first slip to close State Highway 3 last year was in August, it was October 18 when the largest slip came down – the reason the road is still closed.
But with Higgins contractors clearing about 20,000 cubic metres of material every week, the NZ Transport Agency is predicting it will be two more weeks before the road is clear of dirt.
"We've got the amount of dirt down to 40,000 cubic metres, and while that's still a hell of a lot of dirt, we're getting closer and closer to the bridges, and we expect we'll be able to take a good enough look next week to get a head start on the final stages of work," Transport Agency Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal said.
"At the current rate of approximately 3000 cubic metres every 24 hours, another couple of weeks should see the final truckloads of debris leaving the gorge."
Contractors have been working 24 hours a day in recent weeks at the Ashhurst end of the slip, while also clearing material from the Woodville end during the day. Mr McGonigal said the introduction of around-the-clock work had greatly sped up the clearing of the slip.
About 370,000 cubic metres in total has to be removed to clear the road, more than enough material to fill Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
However, once the dirt is gone it would still be several weeks until the highway could reopen as the road needs to be inspected and repaired.
Mr McGonigal said a critical assessment of the damage to the underlying road and bridges would take place early next week.
Inspections this week revealed there may be a significant collapse along one section of the bridge at the Woodville end, and earlier inspections had suggested that damage to the bridges was likely to be serious, he said.
"We're throwing all the resources we can at this, and have brought in experts from five specialist organisations to collaborate in this assessment, as well as extra contractors to push us through to the end," Mr McGonigal said. The date it would reopen was likely to depend on Monday's assessment.
- Manawatu Standard
Is New Zealand's airport security stringent enough?Related story: Risky objects bypass Wellington Airport security