Residents fret over road rumours as highway deadline approaches

Confined work spaces near vertical slopes are challenging workers on State Highway 1, south of Kaikōura. (File photo)
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Confined work spaces near vertical slopes are challenging workers on State Highway 1, south of Kaikōura. (File photo)

The main coastal route from Blenheim to Christchurch is supposed to be open by Christmas, but will it be open after Christmas?

Residents along the quake-damaged highway, north of Kaikōura, claim road workers are saying they will likely have to close the road again after keeping to their holiday promise.

The New Zealand Transport Agency on Tuesday denied the claims, but did say some parts of the highway could be down to one lane while repairs were finished.

NZTA earthquake recovery manager Tim Crow said the highway would not be closed again after Christmas.

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"There's no intention for it to open and then reduce the level of service. What we're hoping to do is provide a level of service people can rely on."

People in Clarence, north of the slips near Kaikōura, are hearing rumours State Highway 1 will close again after ...
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People in Clarence, north of the slips near Kaikōura, are hearing rumours State Highway 1 will close again after Christmas. (File photo)

But that's not what residents in Clarence are hearing, who are increasingly sceptical as the weather and weeks roll by.

One woman said she heard the road would open for just a few days and then close again.

"I also heard some parts might be open just one way, depending how the repairs go. Just in patches, but it wouldn't be two lanes the whole way."

Construction of the 80-metre Irongate Bridge, north of Kaikōura on State Highway 1, in August. (File photo)
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Construction of the 80-metre Irongate Bridge, north of Kaikōura on State Highway 1, in August. (File photo)

Another Clarence resident, who asked not to be named, said she also heard the rumour.

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She doubted the highway would be completely finished by the NZTA's self-imposed deadline of Christmas.

"It's hard to believe how they can open it, considering how much work is left to go. It's such a big job. 

The concept design of the Irongate Bridge section of State Highway 1, released in August. (File photo)
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The concept design of the Irongate Bridge section of State Highway 1, released in August. (File photo)

"We just don't know what to believe."

A third resident said the rumour had spread up the coast with speed.

"We were just talking to our neighbours about it. Most people are saying they're way behind schedule ... The rain pushed them back." 

Huge slips closed State Highway 1 either side of Kaikōura after the November earthquake. (File photo)
CIVIL DEFENCE

Huge slips closed State Highway 1 either side of Kaikōura after the November earthquake. (File photo)

"[Road crews] have got a lot of pressure on them from the Government. All the workers say it definitely won't be open by December 15."

She and her neighbours were trying to make plans for the first few months of next year, and would be gutted if the highway closed again, she said.

"It is frustrating, having to go to Blenheim for things like groceries."

Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith said he heard the rumour about the road closing again after Christmas from some of his constituents and went straight to NZTA to find out the truth.

"You'd be amazed at some of the rumours I've heard, that the road will only be open a few days, that traffic will only be allowed to go north to south.

"It did cause a giggle, when I took it to NZTA. They are hearing all these rumours all the time. But when it's open, it's open."

He was happy to investigate rumours for people, especially those still recovering from the November earthquake, he said.

"It's always good to be asking questions."

Crow said some sections of the highway would need more work after Christmas.

"We could be making improvements for the next year or so, and we're going to need some working space to do that."

The only thing that would close the highway completely after Christmas was a "weather event", Crow said.

"But that's out of our control. We've had the wettest winter for a long time, and that's made work very difficult."

The Irongate Stream, north of Kaikōura, was flooded by heavy rain at the weekend, forcing crews to stop work temporarily.

NZTA planned to release more detailed information next week about what shape the road would be in from December, Crow said.

However, that information would not include an official opening date, he said.

"We will give people some assurance about how to plan for the holidays. I respect they need some level of understanding so they can prepare.

"We're still confirming [the opening date], but we are still committed to opening before Christmas."

 - The Marlborough Express

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