Light at the end of a long tunnel for Woodville
Struggling Woodville businesses are in for some relief with the confirmation alternative routes to the closed Manawatū Gorge road will run through their town.
And while the mayor of Tararua is shocked a new road could be up to seven years away, she hopes locals will capitalise on the construction.
The NZ Transport Agency released a shortlist of four options for a new highway, as State Highway 3 through the gorge is closed indefinitely because of the risk of further slips.
Tararua mayor Tracey Collis said there was relief from business owners as the transport agency promised all options would run through Woodville.
* Manawatū Gorge shortlist of alternative routes revealed
* Homes in path of new highway between Manawatū and Hawke's Bay
* Manawatū Gorge alternatives give little detail on costing and timeframe
* Thirteen alternative routes to the Manawatū Gorge discussed
The options are an upgrade to the Saddle Rd, a new road north of the road, a new road south of it and a new road south of the Manawatū Gorge. All options through the gorge have been ruled out.
Some Woodville businesses have had up to 70 per cent loss in profit since the gorge closure.
Collis said this week's announcement would bring peace of mind. "It's a real reassurance for businesess."
Since the gorge closure, there was an average of 1000 fewer vehicles going through the Tararua District every day, Collis said.
She hopes the transport agency will continue to encourage people to travel through the area by informing people about upgrades to the Saddle Rd and other improvements.
The Saddle Rd could be the main route between Hawke's Bay and Manawatū for more than half a decade as a new road may take up to seven years to complete.
Collis was shocked a road could take almost twice as long as originally anticipated, but she hoped the construction process would give people in surrounding regions job opportunities.
"There will be some economic benefits.
"I think they will be calling on every single contractor."
Collis favours the two options with the lowest gradient, which run south of the Saddle Rd and south of the Manawatū Gorge, as she said the route needed to suit freight companies.
At a transport agency-hosted open day in Woodville on Thursday, residents expressed concern about the length of time the new road would take to build, and the state of the detour routes as it is built.
Several said the shorter-length routes over the Saddle Rd would be best, to help ease petrol costs for transport operators.
"I might not get to drive on it," said retiree Colleen Solly, of Woodville. "They should just do something with the Saddle Rd, bit by bit, so they can still have the same route."
Dannevirke resident Jinny Larrington said she was concerned the longest route could take too long to build.
"Seven years is wrong. A lot of these people won't be around in seven years. Woodville will be a ghost town. That's not fair."
Despite costing the most and taking the longest to build, Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith said he also preferred the most southern route.
It would cause the least disruption, as it didn't involve existing roads, Smith said.
He believed it would also be done faster than other routes because it wouldn't interfere with traffic.
It would also have a maximum gradient of 6 per cent rather than other options, which could reach an 8 per cent gradient.
Even if a new route took the maximum estimated time of seven years, it was still quick for a project of that scale.
If it produced the best possible road, the city council was prepared to wait, he said.
With none of the four shortlisted option running through the gorge, Smith said tourism could be enhanced by cycleways and more focus on walking tracks there.
National Road Carriers chief executive David Aitken said the new highway needed to meet the needs of all road users.
"The easier the gradient, the less likely our members' big rigs will hold up other traffic.
"Ideally, we would like to see two lanes on all uphill sections, or at the very least, lots of overtaking lanes and passing bays."
National Road Carriers would prefer a new road, rather than an upgrade of Saddle Rd, Aitken said.
"A 21st-century engineered road will have gentler curves and be safer than whatever can be done to Saddle Rd."
A top preferred option will be chosen by December.