Ngauranga Gorge slip: SH1's northbound lanes reopen as alternative routes snarl
All three northbound lanes of State Highway 1 in Wellington's Ngauranga Gorge are now open, after a long rush-hour crawls for evening commuters.
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All three southbound lanes, and the Newlands and Johnsonville on-ramps, are set to remain closed until Wednesday morning after a slip brought rocks crashing down the hillside on to the highway just after midday.
Alternative routes are possible via Johnsonville or SH58, then on to SH2 but traffic is choked through Ngaio, Khandallah, Johnsonville, Tawa and on Middlelton Rd through Churton Park as traffic is diverted away.
A police spokeswoman said cars making a U-turn from the southbound lanes into the north were causing a few traffic issues near Tawa and Grenada on State Highway 1.
"We urge motorists to avoid this area by taking alternative routes, and please do not U-turn into oncoming traffic."
Commuters were reporting it was taking 45 minutes to Wilton from the CBD and an hour and 20 minutes to Porirua as at 5.30pm.
Those who were able to, including Hutt-bound motorists, should delay their commute or avoid travel if possible, Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said.
TOMORROW'S COMMUTE - POTENTIALLY HORRENDOUS
NZTA said once SH1 was cleared, concrete barriers would be put in place at the slip site.
It was hoped at least two lanes could be re-opened to morning traffic by 6am, but it would be subject to geotechnical safety advice.
A 50kmh speed limit would be in place in the area for at least the next few days, which would cause some further traffic delays for Wellington-bound traffic.
"We know this is a huge disruption for people and our crews are working hard to get things back to normal as quickly as possible," NZTA regional transport systems manager Mark Owen said.
Owen said people needed to plan ahead, make alternative travel arrangements to get in and out the city, or use State Highway 2 as an alternative.
Wellington City Council's latest update on Tuesday afternoon said the road was closed, but "will probably reopen first thing tomorrow morning".
WORK BEGINS TO CLEAR SLIP
Banas said staff saw the slip happen on the NZTA highway cameras just after 12pm.
The slip, a mixture of dirt and rock, was laying over the three southbound lanes.
The two northbound lanes had been closed to allow contractors a chance to clean up the slip, she said.
Fire engines and a helicopter were sluicing water on to the slip area to remove loose material which could otherwise fall on to the road, NZTA said.
Geotechnical engineers were also on site assessing the area where the slip came down.
"At the moment, we're sluicing the rockface with a helicopter and monsoon buckets, that's to get rid of any loose material. We have had quite a bit more material come done," Owen said.
"The clean-up itself was not too major, it's actually making sure that it's safe, so we can open the lanes back up again."
Police were on the scene assisting with traffic control, a police spokeswoman said.
A digger was working on the outside of the slip, and appeared to be shovelling the dirt off one of the southbound lanes.
Fire communications shift supervisor David Meikle said fire trucks were stationed above the slip in the Wellington suburb of Newlands to assist a helicopter in the area.
Oohh, they're using a helo to try to dislodge loose dirt? (bad video re SH1 landslip) pic.twitter.com/X2anl2YYeG— GrumpSec Spottycat (@kyhwana) July 11, 2017
'IT'S ABSOLUTE CHAOS OUT THERE'
Ohariu MP Peter Dunne Police was heading into the city on the Ngauranga Gorge road just after midday when he was caught up in the traffic jam just before the Newlands off-ramp.
Police directed traffic to an alternative route into the city and it took about an hour to get back into Wellington, he said.
"Traffic from Johnsonville all the way into the city was virtually bumper to bumper."
Dunne said he could not see the slip but there was a lot of traffic at the scene.
"People were getting out and having a look," Dunne said. "Everyone was in pretty good spirits."
Keith Evans had been diverted from the gorge and was taking the back way through Johnsonville.
He said the traffic on the motorway was "insane".
"It's absolute chaos out there."
Roadworks along the alternative Johnsonville route were adding to the delays, he said.
AMBULANCES, STUCK CARS IN THE CLEAR
A police spokeswoman said the hundreds of cars trapped had turned around in the southbound lane after the slip marooned them on the motorway.
"We could see the traffic on our cameras making a u-turn and heading north. They went out of our sight, so I'm not sure which exit they were taken off the motorway at."
A spokeswoman for Wellington Free Ambulance said there were no ambulances stuck in the gorge at the time of the slip.
She said that WFA has contingency plans in place for when a major road is blocked, to ensure ambulance services still have access to communities.
Metlink said Mana/Newlands bus services from Courtenay Place to Northern Suburbs were suspended in both directions between Courtenay Place and Johnsonville because they are "having difficulties moving".
Bus services are still running between Johnsonville and Northern Suburbs.
Passengers were advised to travel by train on the Johnsonville Line and transfer onto buses at Johnsonville Station until further notice.
The 210/211 services were turning at Tawa. The last stop between Porirua to Tawa was 3962 and first stop Tawa to Porirua was 3910.
Services affected were: 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 210, 211.
ROAD CLOSED: #SH1 Ngauranga Gorge due to a slip blocking all three southbound lanes just after the Newlands on-ramp. #ExpectDelays ^EL pic.twitter.com/GMLhf7Pqjs— NZTA Wellington (@NZTAWgtn) July 11, 2017
HOSPITAL APPOINTMENTS MISSED
About 30 people were unable to attend their hospital appointments following the closure of Ngauranga Gorge, says the Wellington Regional Hospital.
Spokesman Chas Te Runa said patients with hospital appointments on Wednesday should plan their journey in advance.
"While it is unclear whether the gorge will be open tomorrow, it is still important to attend booked appointments – which include dialysis, x-ray, cancer treatment, and other specialist appointments," he said.
"The free shuttle between Wellington Regional Hospital and Kenepuru Community Hospital will continue to run, but will take an alternative route. We have been advised that train services are still running, but buses are affected."
Hospital booking staff are doing their best to contact people living in the Northern Suburbs, Porirua and Kapiti to talk about travel arrangements, he said.