Quake road set for Christmas rush
People planning their Christmas holidays can count on the Kaiko¯ura coastal highway being open in time, as the first train passes through the town since the November earthquake.
About 1500 workers are frantically working along the main route between Picton and Christchurch in sometimes harsh conditions to re-open State Highway 1 before Christmas.
The main rail line between Picton and Christchurch yesterday reopened to limited freight traffic after the 7.8-magnitude quake in November sent vast hillside crashing on to the line and closing SH1 along the coastal corridor.
A section of the highway north of Kaikoura remains closed, while to the south the road to Goose Bay is open only some of the time.
The target of having the road reopened by Christmas was repeated two weeks ago in a special edition of North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery’s (NCTIR) regular bulletin.
‘‘We are . . . well on the way to re-opening the entire length of SH1 before Christmas this year,’’ the bulletin said.
Reopening the rail line, albeit only to limited freight services, just 10 months after the giant quake ripped up the countryside of the northeast of the South Island is a major achievement. Having the highway re-opened by Christmas will be remarkable.
According to the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), which is part of NCTIR, 194 kilometres of SH1 between Leithfield and Blenheim were damaged in the earthquake.
There were 85 landslides across the highway, and it wasn’t until last month that heavy machinery was able to travel the length of the coastal corridor. That was made possible by the building of an access track around the edge of a massive slip at Ohau Point, north of Kaikoura.
Ohau is one of the largest and most challenging landslides still to be cleared, NZTA said. It stretches 630 metres around the famous fur seal sanctuary and involved more than 100,000 cubic metres of material.
To clear the slip at Ohau, crews had to build access tracks around the other nine major landslides along the route.
Helicopters sluiced the landslide to bring down loose material, then earthworks teams spent two months benching the landslide to make it safe enough so that more than 8000 truck and trailer loads of material could be carted off the southern side of the point during a two-month round-the-clock operation.
Through winter, teams worked on building the foundations for a new seawall at Ohau Point where the new road is to be built. Seawall teams are working at Ohau and closer to Kaiko¯ura at Irongate to build 2.5km of seawalls. More than 7000 blocks are needed for the work, each weighing more than five tonnes.
During the work at Ohau Point, the seal colony also had to be looked after, with pups and adult seals moved out of the construction site, NZTA said.
NZTA recovery manager Steve Mutton said it was hard to understand the scale of the work being done along the route.
‘‘At Site 1 just north of Kaikoura, for example, the two slips were 104m and 153m high and it took five months for us to remove more than 10,000 truckloads of material. And that is just one of the slips at nine main sites north of Kaikoura.
‘‘We are literally moving mountains to get the highway reopened – it’s arduous work in often atrocious conditions.’’
Work was going on around the clock, where possible, to get the highway re-opened by the December target.
Bridges were also damaged during the quake, and in July the first vehicles crossed the restored critical bridge at Oaro, south of Kaikoura.
In recent weeks, trucks have been carrying bridge beams up to 25 metres long to Irongate, north of Kaiko¯ura, as well as to smaller bridge sites to the north of the town.
The 140 beams needed for the bridges north of Kaiko¯ura are having to be brought in from Rotorua, Hastings, Christchurch and Tauranga.
This all costs lots of money. In the 2017 Budget, the Government said the total cost of reinstating the road and rail corridor was estimated to be between $1.1 billion and $1.33b.
The value of work done up to late April was put at $45 million, while the budget included $812m for the highway, with some of that money to be spent after the road re-opens.
In July the NZTA board approved a further $231m for the 60km section of SH1 between Clarence and Oaro, with the money to be used to help ‘‘improve safety, journey reliability, access and public amenities such as stopping areas and some cycle facilities’’. That includes a new separated cycleway and walkway between Okiwi Bay and Mangamaunu.
Despite the phenomenal amount of work being done and the pre-Christmas opening target, when Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith recently said the highway north of Kaiko¯ura would re-open on December 15 he was just making what he later called an ‘‘educated guess’’.
Hundreds of people yesterday welcomed the first freight train through Kaiko¯ura since the earthquake last November.
Construction of the 80-metre Irongate bridge, south of Ward on State Highway 1.