Road crews prepare to battle ice, snow on alternative inland route this winter
Round-the-clock crews and extra weather stations will be used to prevent the South Island's alternative inland route from succumbing to ice and snow this winter.
As temperatures drop and winter conditions settle in, the New Zealand Transport Agency have announced a raft of procedures to ensure the route from Picton to Christchurch stays open as much as possible.
Sections of the inland route, which replaces State Highway 1 following the November earthquake, close up to six times every winter with no detours available.
North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery journey manager Tresca Forrester said an increase to resources, monitoring and equipment had been allocated to keep the South Island's replacement transport link open.
More vehicles and trucks on the road meant icing was less likely, but stocks of de-icer had been significantly increased to fight the freezing conditions, Forrester said.
Two weather stations would be installed at St Arnaud and on the Lewis Pass so crews, who would be on-call 24/7, could anticipate when to take action.
"Stationing road crews along the route will allow any section to be cleared and re-opened as efficiently as possible," Forrester said.
Almost $50 million had been used to improve State Highways 63, 6, 65 and 7 in the past six months.
Road rebuild and resurfacing, as well as safety improvements like road widening and guardrail installations, required the bulk of the budget.
Winter would add a new dimension to the route and drivers would need to be prepared for all conditions, Forrester said.
"While there may be more closures this year, they will be for much shorter periods, which will benefit the overall efficiency and travel time and improve safety for all road users," she said.
Truck driver Teenie Hounslow, of Picton, said truckies were used to taking it as it comes on the inland route.
Trucking companies would be prepared with additional blankets and supplies for their drivers as the cold climate crept in, Hounslow said.
"You are better off taking it slow and living than the alternative. It's just the way it is," she said.
"We all said from the start that the road is crap, but it wasn't designed for this... The road has improved a heck of a lot since then."
"The men and women doing the road and widening it, they're bloody marvellous."
Murchison and Culverden would be earmarked as towns where drivers should stop if conditions were to turn this winter.
The NZTA had also altered its approach to managing the Lewis Pass, which would operate as either open or closed.
Previous restrictions of "chains essential" and "no towing vehicles" would not be an option this winter on that section of SH7.
Police would also increase their level of service for the area, Forrester said.
Additional cell phone coverage would be installed on out of range sections of the alternative route, while an emergency cell phone site would be installed at Boyle Lodge, near Poplars Range on SH7, by the end of the month.
For more information on winter driving, visit the NZTA website.
- The Marlborough Express