Traffic set to move again

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Contractors work on a bridge in the Manawatu Gorge
UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Contractors work on a bridge in the Manawatu Gorge

Traffic could again flow through the Manawatu Gorge in as little as 10 days' time, with the budget for the work hitting the $20 million mark.

State Highway 3 through the gorge has been closed for all but six weeks since the first slip fell, near the Ashhurst end, a year ago today.

That was cleared relatively quickly but a further huge slip in October has taken some moving and left a huge scar above the road.

Since then motorists travelling between Manawatu and Hawke's Bay have been forced to use the Saddle Road or the Pahiatua Track.

The Manawatu Standard took a close look at the site yesterday, where contractors were hard at work putting the finishing touches to a new bridge at the Woodville end of the slip, and working on the washed-away road surface at the other end.

NZ Transport Agency regional state highways manager David McGonigal said a decision about when the road could partially reopen would be made next week.

"I would like it to open within the next two weeks; a week on Monday at the best, but probably after that."

Whether that would be for traffic in one direction, or both, would be discussed.

There might be occasions when it was quicker to divert one lane of traffic over the Saddle Road to allow workers to get on with it, Mr McGonigal said.

The road could be finished by the end of September and the chance of further slips was minimal, although the hillside would be monitored.

At present it was pretty solid and there had not been any slips since the big one came down.

Between December last year and May, a series of benches were created to stabilise the slope, and netting to catch rocks was being put up, Mr McGonigal said.

So far about $17.3m had been spent on the cleanup and it was expected the whole project, which included upgrade and repair work to the Saddle Road and Pahiatua Track, would cost a total of $20m.

The Saddle Road in particular has required constant repair work, not surprising when it normally has 200 vehicles driving over it each day.

Now, there are about 4500.

"We've used those roads as state highways and we've got to give them back to the local council in [good] condition," Mr McGonigal said.

Ashhurst woman Alicia Rink can't wait for Salisbury St, which leads to the Saddle Road, to return to its quiet normality.

She said the extra traffic noise was noticeable, particularly at 3am or 4am when heavy trucks drove past. With all the extra vehicles going past, Ms Rink keeps her dog out the back and rarely goes outside.

"When the gorge opens it will definitely be a blessing."

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway welcomed the pending opening, but hoped new east-west roading alternatives would be looked at.

"What we need is a proper analysis of all the different options and [to] work out what is the best way forward."

Pictures, page 4

Manawatu Gorge one year on, page 15

Manawatu Standard