Gorge re­open­ing still weeks away

The Hastings Mail - - FRONT PAGE - GE­OR­GIA FOR­RESTER

The road through the Manawatu Gorge will be closed for at least another three weeks as the sta­bil­ity of the area is ex­am­ined.

The lat­est clo­sure of the state high­way looks set to stretch past the two-month mark amid safety con­cerns fol­low­ing a se­ries of slips. High­way man­ager Ross I’An­son said the NZ Trans­port Agency was com­plet­ing ge­o­log­i­cal as­sess­ments of the slip sites to de­ter­mine the risk of fur­ther slips or rock falls – a process that could take up to three weeks.

It’s pos­si­ble more work could be re­quired af­ter that.

I’An­son said the phys­i­cal re­pair work, which in­cludes in­stalling new rock-fall net­ting and re­in­stat­ing a re­tain­ing wall, were on track to be fin­ished by the end of this week.

How­ever, the fur­ther ge­o­log­i­cal as­sess­ments were needed be­fore State High­way 3 could be safely re­opened, he said. ‘‘We’re work­ing with our con­trac­tors and in­de­pen­dent geotech­ni­cal en­gi­neers to com­plete these as­sess­ments as soon as pos­si­ble, but these eval­u­a­tions must be thor­ough to en­sure that the road is safe when it is re­opened.

‘‘While the slips have been cleared and the road has been re­paired at both sites, the slips have al­tered the rock faces above the road and we need to thor­oughly as­sess any ad­di­tional risks that the newly ex­posed rock might pose for road users.’’

The ma­jor route be­tween Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay closed af­ter af­ter two slips caused dam­age in April, fol­low­ing se­vere weather. The road was also closed for more than a year fol­low­ing slips in 2011, as well as sev­eral smaller clo­sures since. I’An­son said the re­cent slips had re­sulted in new crack­ing in the rock faces.

The agency needed to iden­tify if there was a risk of rock fall­ing on to the road and what work was re­quired to pro­vide fur­ther pro­tec­tion for road users, he said.

‘‘We un­der­stand how frus­trat­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the gorge is and we know the sig­nif­i­cant im­pact it is hav­ing for road users, busi­nesses and res­i­dents, but the safety of road users is paramount.’’

The gorge’s clo­sure has meant both the Sad­dle Rd and Pahiatua Track are tak­ing more traf­fic as al­ter­na­tive routes.

Trav­ellers re­cently faced de­lays on both al­ter­na­tive routes, be­cause of a crash on the Sad­dle Rd and a break­down on the Pahiatua Track.

There have been calls from busi­ness own­ers, res­i­dents of Ash­hurst and Woodville, and truck com­pany man­agers for a bet­ter long-term so­lu­tion. I’An­son said the agency was work­ing on a busi­ness case look­ing at op­tions for a re­silient route be­tween the Ruahine and Tararua ranges.

DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

The lat­est clo­sure will last longer than two months.

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