Get the Mt Messenger bypass built
An old pig-hunting friend mentioned to me years ago that one day he expects to be heading north over Mt Messenger, to drive through the tunnel, toot and find the whole bank on the northern side has disappeared down the cliff and into the valley below.
Clearly the roading engineers thought the same, which is why they have done a massive retaining and stabilisation job on the cliff holding that section of road up, which is clearly visible from the north.
Maybe that engineering will hold the papa (layers of soft, blue grey mudstone or muddy sandstone) together, maybe not.
I come from an infrastructure background, where anything that can go wrong, eventually will. Ask the people living around Manawatu Gorge, or Kaikoura, or Christchurch, or the Maui Pipeline, or Mahoenui Hill. Our earth moves.
The fact that the Government has finally committed $200 million for bypassing this slowly eroding clay mound is fantastic news for Taranaki as it really is our primary economically feasible link north and makes a crucial contribution to our current regional GDP of about $8 billion in 2017 (Source: Statistics NZ).
So it was interesting to see a Stuff/Taranaki Daily News columnist suggesting the investment in the SH3 Mt Messenger bypass would be better spent on a number of smaller projects based on historical roading reviews.
Some say if we got rid of the trucks on the road, and stuck everything on rail, Mt Messenger would be fine.
But our national rail infrastructure has been progressively undermined over the past few decades and, because of the way we have structured rail costs, rail simply cannot compete with trucking in terms of getting goods to market quickly and efficiently.
Taranaki’s rail link through the eastern hills to Taumarunui has been closed, so if you want to move people and produce between Taranaki and the upper North Island, SH3 north and the airport are our only options.
If that hill slips and we lose a decent chunk of highway down the cliff, Taranaki will be isolated far more than it already is and our economy and way of life will take a massive hit.
Some people will recall the impact on SH3 of the major slip at Mahoenui back in the 1990s. It took more than a year to repair, took weeks just to upgrade a decent detour route, which also added close to an hour to the journey north. The cost to our people in terms of time and our economy in terms of costs were significant and if a similar event occurred at Mt Messenger the impacts would be far more severe because of the lack of alternative routes.
When you are dealing with a nation’s core infrastructure you need to be thinking about resilience, risk and large-scale contingency planning.
New Zealand is a long, skinny country with fragile infrastructure stretched top to bottom.
In the energy industry we ensured built-up areas had multiple sources of supply so that if one line or cable failed, several others could pick up the load.
But our back-up options around Mt Messenger and much of the highway north involve many hours of detours.
In risk terms, a major slip taking out Mt Messenger would be classed as a high impact, low probability event, but history and Murphy’s law have taught us that these events happen.
There is an old story about the United States Army engineers offering to build Transmission Gully for the New Zealand Government while they were stationed here during World War II.
I’m not sure if it’s true but apparently someone decided it wasn’t needed. Just ask the people of Wellington stuck in holiday traffic for hours if they would have appreciated the now $850m project being completed a little earlier.
Yes it’s all very well questioning those who do the hard work to make a project happen by downplaying risks and talking up minor incremental alternatives.
But from where I sit we have a $200m state funded and approved project which eliminates a significant risk on our main highway north and I say get it built and built well, open it and move on to the next major improvement because Taranaki hasn’t been getting its share of the roading dollar over the past few years and when opportunities like this arise, they need to be taken.
Neil Holdom, Mayor New Plymouth District
The bypass route around Mt Messenger.