Businesses lobby transport minister for urgent Manawatu Gorge fix
Businesses throughout the lower North Island are pushing for an urgent solution to the troubled Manawatu Gorge route, saying road closures have been a longstanding problem.
State Highway 3 through the gorge, linking Manawatu and Hawke's Bay, has been closed because of slips since April.
It will not reopen for the foreseeable future, with the NZ Transport Agency pulling staff out of the area because of safety concerns.
The agency is working on upgrading the Saddle Rd alternative route, which bypassess Woodville and takes heavy trucks through Ashhurst.
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But business leaders want more action, faster, to get the problem fixed.
Manawatu Chamber of Commerce acting chief executive Amanda Linsley said the chamber asked the Government in 2012, after another large slip came down in 2011 and closed the road for 14 months, to find a long-term solution.
"No-one wants a continuation of the situation whereby every five years the gorge is shut by a major slip closing the road for at least a month, with many minor hiccups throughout the year, disrupting local businesses and adding unnecessary costs.
"Five years later, sadly, that prophecy has come true, with an even more devastating outcome than was foreseen."
Trucking firms across the lower North Island were being hit with increased labour and fuel costs, she said.
"Companies are acutely aware of not just the damage to their own businesses, but to the Manawatu and the lower North Island's general economic standing."
Meanwhile, no solid solution had been put forward.
"There needs to be urgent discussion and a decision made about the possible alternatives and a plan put in place for the long term without further delay."
Manawatu businessman and former director of the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Paul O'Brien said chambers across the lower North Island were lobbying Transport Minister Simon Bridges for a solution.
"They are saying 'this has to be acted upon with some urgency'.
"They all use Manawatu as a distribution hub, so it's not about being parochial.
"The gorge is the most expedient, and some would argue the safest, route available.
"In this day and age we should be able to find a solution to maintain what has been the main route for the last century. It's just nuts."
Bridges said he would be in the area later in July to talk to people about how they were going, but accepted it was a frustrating scenario.
"At one level, it's not good enough that we have never solved the gorge situation with a near-perfect solution.
"A road like this is difficult, because it does about 7000 vehicles a day.
"In comparison with some roads, it's not massive, but for those 7000 I totally accept it is an economic and social lifeline."
The plan was threefold: Improve the Saddle Rd, get a detailed idea of the geology of the gorge area and get on with figuring out the best fix, Bridges said.
He had been told that getting resource consent for any of the proposed alternatives – roads north of the Saddle Rd, a tunnel, or a flyover through the gorge – would be extremely difficult, probably involving legal action.
The pricetag would be big, and any work would take a long time, he said.
"There are no easy solutions, but let's not be critical."