Contractors working around the clock to fix new hole in Manawatu Gorge road
Work begins at the crack of dawn for road workers playing catch-up in the Manawau Gorge.
Making the most of daylight is a must as Higgins contractors try to clear a newly-created hole in the road, which Stuff saw first-hand during a guided trip through the clean up site on Friday.
The sunken road, just below a large slip site, is the latest in a cascade of events that has plagued the Gorge in the past month.
State Highway 3 through the Gorge is the main link between Manawatu and the eastern regions of the North Island. It was closed after a large slip covered both lanes on April 24.
* Gouge in gorge road delays reopening
* Another slip at the Manawatu Gorge delays reopening
* Work in the Manawatu Gorge to clear slip continues
* A look inside the closed Manawatu Gorge
* Work finally begins on large Manawatu Gorge slip
* Manawatu Gorge closed overnight following slip
A smaller slip also fell on the same day and then more rocks came crumbling down on May 14.
About a week later, when the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) was hoping to open one lane to the gorge, the road collapsed and with it sunk the hope of reopening.
On Friday, NZTA highway manager Ross I'Anson said he could not promise when the road would reopen again but contractors were working as fast as possible.
Road workers have been pulled from the Kapiti expressway project, working from dusk till dawn, 7 days a-week in the hopes of getting vehicles moving through the gorge again, I'Anson said.
The scale of work that has been completed in the past four weeks is hard to imagine without standing next to one of the slips gazing up at the bare rock face once covered by greenery.
One slip, on the Ballance bridge end of the Gorge, had 10,000 cubic metres of debris drop. In total about 3600cum fell at the Ashhurst end slip.
Repairs had cost about $600,000 so far, I'Anson said.
He understood how frustrating it was for people wanting to use the quicker route rather than the alternative routes at Saddle Rd and the Pahiatua Track.
But on a positive note, the closure meant remedial work could be completed to strengthen other parts of the road, he said.
Guard rails that were once flattened by vehicles brushing against them have been replaced and bridge and rock face maintenance was undertaken.
At the slip sites, trees that sat at the top of the cliff have been removed to lighten the load on the rockface.
Although netting catches small slips, it doesn't stand a chance with large slips, such as the two recent ones.
"It slows it all down. It does help but it doesn't stop it," I'Anson said.
If a slip occurred it would bulge out slower than normal, which would help safeguard passing vehicles, he said.
Long term solutions would be explored once the recent damage to the Gorge had been dealt with, I'Anson said.
Ideas raised in the past include building a bridge through the middle of the Gorge or creating a tunnel.
Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon recently suggested moving the road out from the hillside in slip-prone areas to allow for material to fall into a ditch rather than on the road.
It was a cost-effective solution for a highway that was known to sit between unstable landscape, Gordon said.
I'Anson said Gordon's suggestion was already used on one point at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge.
However, the Gorge was prone to slips at any point but some sections could not be pushed out further, I'Anson said.