Get the Mt Messenger by­pass built

Taranaki Daily News - - Opinion -

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.

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