By Adam Pearse
The popular passage that connects Manawatu to the East Coast may never reopen due to its unstable rock face says the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
In a press release from the NZTA on July 7, Regional Transport System Manager Ross I’Anson says that despite efforts to clear debris from a slip earlier in the year, the road is under an imminent risk of further significant slips or rockfalls.
“Geotechnical assessments have confirmed that the entire hillside is moving, and the rate of that movement is accelerating.
“That’s an indication that a slip as large or larger than the 2011 slip which closed the road for 14 months could come down at any time.”
As part of State Highway 3, the Gorge is a heavily trafficked road that connects over a half a million people and is key to businesses for transporting material.
This has led to the increased use of the two remaining connecting roads – the Pahiatua Track and particularly, the Saddle Road.
While the transport agency is already investing $8.5 million in an upgrade to improve the safety and resilience of the Saddle Road, allowing it to better cope with increased traffic volumes at times like this when the Manawatu Gorge is closed, I’Anson says more work is planned.
“The significant length of the current closure has put the Saddle Road under added pressure, and the transport agency will be working to upgrade the road and keep it safe.
“The reality is that the Saddle Road will effectively be functioning as the state highway connection for this part of the country for some time,” I’Anson says.
I’Anson says in parallel to the work to address the issues in the gorge and support the current detour routes, the transport agency will also be looking at a range of long term options to bypass or replace the current Manawatu Gorge route.