Gorge reopening still weeks away
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.
The latest closure will last longer than two months.