Manawatu Gorge closed indefinitely

5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJuly 7, 2017

New geotechnical information has highlighted major safety risks in the Manawatu Gorge, meaning it is likely to be closed for some time.

In light of this, the NZ Transport Agency says an urgent programme of additional work will get underway immediately to significantly improve the Saddle Road detour route, as it will now be the state highway connection for this part of the country.

Regional transport system manager Ross I‘Anson says while a significant amount of work has been undertaken in the gorge to clear the slips that have come down since April, geotechnical engineers have now confirmed that a large area above the Kerry‘s Wall rock face is highly unstable, with an imminent risk of further significant slips or rock falls.

“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.”

The immediate risk of another large slip coming down in the gorge has forced the NZTA to remove all contractors from the current work sites for safety reasons, and I‘Anson says those same risks mean the road cannot be safely re-opened for motorists.

“We know that this news will add to the considerable frustration and stress which local businesses and residents are already dealing with. We understand the impact that this ongoing closure has on people‘s lives, but the safety of road users is paramount and the current unstable conditions in the gorge mean it simply cannot be opened to traffic until more work is done to fully understand the risks and how they might be mitigated.

“We‘re committed to keeping people informed as the situation develops, and we‘ll continue to work closely with the Tararua District Council to do everything possible to help people and businesses in the region for as long as the gorge remains closed.”

Until the movement of the hillside at Kerry‘s wall slows or stops, I‘Anson says it is not possible to carry out further work at the site or predict when the road might re-open.

While the NZTA 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.

He says the significant length of the current closure has put the Saddle Road under added pressure, and the road will be upgraded to keep it safe.

The NZTA has agreed to take over full responsibility for the maintenance and management of the Saddle Road from the Tararua District Council for as long as the gorge remains closed, so will now fund any repairs and remedial work.

While wet weather has delayed work planned for earlier this week, I‘Anson says pavement upgrades and repair work are beginning today on sections of the Saddle Road that haven‘t yet been upgraded.

In parallel to the work to address the issues in the Gorge and support the current detour routes, the NZTA will also be looking at a range of long-term options to bypass or replace the current Manawatu Gorge route.

Speaking at a business lunch in Levin today, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said he had already been scheduled to visit the gorge site when he was given news of its continued closure this morning.

“Workers have come off the site. When you‘ve got the ground moving and it‘s speeding up, it‘s not safe for workers or for motorists. The reality is it‘s not safe or practical to fix the road, you just can‘t do it.”

Bridges says while the Government had already spent a few million dollars upgrading the Saddle Road, more will be invested while an alternative solution to the Manawatu Gorge was found.

“We need to find a long-term solution. It‘s an incredibly complex and expensive problem but we will treat it with urgency.”