Much to the relief of commuters and nearby business owners, the Manawatu Gorge road will partially reopen next week.
The NZ Transport Agency confirmed the news yesterday, as contractors make good progress on repairing State Highway 3.
Once the road reopens, traffic heading from Woodville to Ashhurst can travel through the Gorge between 8am and 6pm. Commuters going in the other direction will still have to use the Saddle Road or the Pahiatua Track.
At night time the gorge will be open to commuters going both ways and, where the road is reduced to one lane, traffic will be controlled by lights.
The road has been closed for all but six weeks of the past year and the total budget for the cleanup and upgrade work is expected to hit $20 million. Business owners at either end of the gorge welcomed the news, with Woodville's Yummy Mummy's Cheesecake owner Trish Rodwell saying she was "ecstatic".
"It's fabulous news and we're so grateful for the boys who have been working there. They've done an awesome job," she said.
"We've traded way down in comparison to what we should, so definitely, the [closure] has had an impact on us."
Now the road was due to reopen, there was "light at the end of the tunnel" and business could get back to normal, Mrs Rodwell said.
Ashhurst's Commercial Tavern owner Klayton Blades was also happy with the news.
The hotel is on the now busy Cambridge/Mulgrave streets intersection and Mr Blades, who lives onsite, has been affected by the noise from heavy trucks rumbling through.
"I'll be rapt when the Gorge opens because it takes a lot of pressure off this corner," he said.
Ormond St Motel owner Mervyn Cresswell's Woodville business hasn't really suffered through the closure, with contractors staying in his units, but Mr Cresswell welcomed the reopening for convenience's sake.
Transport Agency regional state highways manager David McGonigal said the partial reopening would reduce traffic on the alternative routes by two thirds.
The Gorge project was running ahead of schedule and traffic would travel across a new bridge that replaced the crumbled section of road under the slip site.
"It will be hugely rewarding to have the bridge open to traffic. While it's a similar arrangement to what we had a couple of months ago, this will be brand new, permanent infrastructure that will serve the gorge for years to come," Mr McGonigal said. "Opening up one lane will save people money, fuel, and, crucially, time."
Mr McGonigal thanked Ashhurst and Woodville residents for their patience.
The reopening would allow the Saddle Road and Pahiatua Track relief from the "pounding" they've had through the winter's heavy rain and heavy traffic.
"As soon as the sun comes out, our contractors leap at the chance to patch up the road," Mr McGonigal said.
"This means that during drier weather, people will notice Higgins' crews out in force working hard to . . . make the road safer."
- © Fairfax NZ News
What would you like the weather to do in March?