NZTA to review road closures

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 09:23 29/05/2014

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The NZ Transport Agency is to review its procedures for road closures along the Kaikoura Coast after hundreds of motorists and passengers were stranded at Kaikoura and along State Highway 1 during the pre-Easter storm.

It said yesterday the highway should have been closed earlier after heavy rain battered the coast and caused multiple slips and extensive flooding on the road, blocking off motorists.

The review followed a debrief meeting on Tuesday between the agency, its contractors, police and civil defence to investigate lessons learned from the storm response.

The agency's highway manager Colin Knaggs said the combination of the severe weather and communication blackout had affected their response.

"It was not an ideal situation and one we try to avoid by ensuring our highways are closed before conditions deteriorate to the extent where motorists are stranded."

Knaggs said in the future they would work with police, contractors and civil defence to look at the road closure procedures and whether there needs to be any changes to ensure an appropriate balance between safety and access.

"It is important we get this right to ensure both the safety of motorists and also our contractors and police, who worked in difficult conditions on the night with up to 30 millimetres of rain falling an hour in the area when the highway became impassable."

Knaggs said conditions were made worse with the loss of landline, cellphone and internet communication in Kaikoura from about 11pm Thursday to early Saturday which made it difficult to get messages out about the state of the highway.

He said the review would look at how to improve communications and keep motorists better informed if a road was closed.

Work was also being done to get better early storm warnings.

"There was a storm warning for the country but what happened on the Kaikoura Coast was significantly worse than forecast and it did catch everyone off guard."

The agency would review how to ensure that motorists better understand the meaning of road conditions to make informed decisions about when to travel or stay at home.

"What we are doing is working to minimise the risk for everyone," Knaggs said.

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