Politicians quibble about best solution to Manawatu Gorge closure

Last updated 10:30 12/07/2017

State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge is closed until further notice, and politicians have offered a range of ideas about what should happen next.

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Tunnels and trains are among the varied options favoured by politicians as solutions to the Manawatu Gorge's traffic woes.

But they all agree on one thing – the closure has opened up an opportunity to look at the future of transport links between Manawatu and the eastern side of the ranges.

State Highway 3 through the gorge is closed for the foreseeable future, with contractors unable to work on a slip blocking the road because a large chunk of hillside could come down at any moment.

The alternative Saddle Rd route has inflicted a tsunami of traffic on Ashhurst's residential streets, while Woodville businesses are suffering massive financial hits as traffic bypasses the town.

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Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said he wanted an alternative route built, but believed the Government's roads of national significance policy had prevented the investment.

But National's candidate for Palmerston North, Adrienne Pierce, said pointing the finger at the current Government was wrong, as the gorge had been unstable for decades

"We are dealing with Mother Nature here, so what is the answer to that?"

She said she wanted to get politicians from Whanganui to Hawke's Bay together to come up with a route that worked for all those regions.

"We have an opportunity now to look at the bigger picture."

Palmerston North-based NZ First MP Darroch Ball did not buy Pierce's explanation, saying the gorge was part of a wider issue about regional investment.

"The fact of the matter is, if this was the Auckland Harbour Bridge, it would be fixed tomorrow."

While a proper investigation and report into a solution was needed, Ball said a New Zealand Transport Agency report finished after the 2012 slip showed there were cost-effective options.

That report explored various alternative options, from a road through the Te Apiti wind farm to a tunnel, with benefit-cost ratios ranging from 0.2 to 1.5.

The higher the ratio, the better the investment.

Ball said a "cut and cover" approach, where shallow tunnels are created where they are needed, was the best answer.

"A full tunnel would be the Rolls Royce-style solution, but then you have to think of the cost.

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"You can also do a bridge through parts of it. That's not nearly as expensive as a tunnel.

The Green Party's Palmerston North candidate Thomas Nash said work was being done to create a "transport triangle" between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, and a similar arrangement could happen with Manawatu, Wellington and Wairarapa.

Modern and reliable rail links between the three areas would take trucks off the road, thereby taking pressure off the Saddle Rd, he said.

Palmerston North would benefit largely from investment in rail, as the city was a distribution hub for the lower North Island, he said.

"It's all about thinking long term."

- Stuff

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