Details wanted on gorge plan
The two regional councils affected by the closure of the road through the Manawatu Gorge are demanding a detailed plan about what the Government intends to do.
They want answers about why a permanent fix has taken so long, but are ‘‘rapt’’ something is finally happening.
Last Tuesday, Transport Minister Simon Bridges confirmed the Government was looking for a permanent fix to the ongoing threat of slips closing State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge.
The NZ Transport Agency had earlier announced it had invited three organisations to submit tenders to investigate long-term options.
But top officials from Hawke’s Bay and Horizons regional councils have criticised the statements as vague, saying such work should have already been under way.
Tenders for the work close in mid-August and a final recommendation is expected in December. This would then go out for public consultation and a permanent fix is expected within three years.
Hawke’s Bay council deputy chairman Rick Barker said his council welcomed the commitment to finding a stable alternative route, but ‘‘lamented’’ the lack of detail on the possible options.
The region deserved a ‘‘definitive statement’’ laying out a fully-detailed plan, he said.
Barker said the Government had been aware of the problems with the gorge for more than 20 years, and action should have been taken long ago.
Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon said he agreed with Barker’s concerns and criticisms and added the Government should have known this was coming and been more prepared.
If the Government had been more serious about, and quicker to act on, promises to upgrade the alternative routes after the last major slip, there would be less of a problem now, he said.
‘‘I’m rapt someone is finally seriously looking at a long-term solution, but we’ve had five years, it should have been up to standard by now.‘‘
Barker and Gordon was also concerned about the state of the alternative roads while the gorge route was closed.
‘‘I personally came over the Saddle hill last week and thought I would break an axle,’’ Barker said.
Transport agency regional transport systems manager Ross I’Anson told a Woodville public meeting this month only a general outline was available until a detailed business case on the options was put together.
Several permanent fixes for the Manawatu Gorge were considered in 2012, after the last major slip closed the road for more than a year. They ranged from a tunnel to a new road near the Te Apiti wind farm, but all were ultimately shelved.
Bridges has said the expert advice at the time was those options were technically difficult and risky, so the safest course was to clear the road and reopen the gorge.
But circumstances had now changed and workers were pulled out of the gorge in early July over safety concerns about a large area of unstable rock face.
New Zealand Transport Agency spokeswoman Liz Banas said an $8.5 million upgrade to the Saddle Rd was under way when the first slip came down in April.
Meanwhile, on Friday two safety notices were issued for the gorge area.
Horizons advised the public to stay clear of the Manawatu River, between Ballance Bridge and the Ashhurst Bridge due to a high risk of falling rocks.
And the Department of Conservation has closed an eastern section of the Manawatu Gorge track to replace a bridge.
The Manawatu Gorge has been closed since a large slip damaged the road in April.