Replacement route for Manawatu Gorge six years away

8 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 16, 2018

The replacement route for the permanently closed Manawatu Gorge has been announced, but motorists will have to use the alternative routes for another six years.

The NZ Transport Agency announced today that the preferred option was Option 3 of the four that had been shortlisted.

The proposed route will run from near the Te Apiti car park western entry of the closed Manawatu Gorge, cross the Ruahine Ranges north of the gorge, and emerge at Woodville.

NZTA director regional relationships Emma Speight says after a thorough investigation and extensive consultation, Option 3 emerged as the safest and most resilient route that best balances the combined needs of the communities, businesses and road users who will utilise it.

“Everybody understands just how important a replacement for the gorge is. It will re-establish a key strategic transport and freight link that supports the needs of the people and economies of central New Zealand” she says.

“Alongside this, the Transport Agency has committed to advancing investigations for a Regional Freight Ring Road, including a second road bridge across the Manawatu River, which stakeholders across the region see as a critical package to unlocking regional economic development opportunities.”

The Detailed Business Case process will begin immediately, covering a 10-year programme of work, targeted for completion at the same time as the replacement route for the Manawatu Gorge.

Transport operator Glenn Carroll wasn‘t looking forward to another six years of relying on the alternative routes as his trucks travel between Manawatu and Hawke‘s Bay several times a day.

“Obviously they‘ve got to purchase land and go through the consent process and all that. But there was talk that they were going to treat it like the Kaikoura road, as a priority, and do away with the resource consents. If they did it would be good.”

Carroll says at least the new route will be a green fields project so motorists won‘t be subject to road closures on the route while it is being built.

“It‘s not like they have to shut the road to traffic, at least they can get into it without any disturbance. It‘s no good the way it is at the moment, but six years, it‘s a long time.”

Carroll says it‘s especially difficult when the Saddle Road is closed for maintenance between 9am and 3pm.

“We have to come through Pahiatua, and that‘s a pain in the neck, especially for some of our stuff that‘s only going to Feilding. We have got clients at Woodville too.”

It‘s not just the time factor, Carroll says every trip he makes also costs significantly more.

“Sometimes we‘ve got six or seven loads a day over there. It‘s not good – if you have to deviate off the Saddle, that‘s half an hour. The old gorge used to be a six-minute trip between bridge to bridge, you‘d just buzz through there. You just don’t appreciate it until it‘s gone.”

Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon says that progressing a Regional Freight Ring Road in parallel with the Manawatu Gorge replacement route would be a significant step forward for the region.

“It would connect key freight hubs and bring significant improvements to freight and passenger vehicle movements through the central North Island hub of Manawatu, improving travel times and lowering costs. This better positions the region to attract investment in logistics, manufacturing and processing, which is critical for the region‘s future growth and prosperity.”

The inclusion of a second bridge over the Manawatu River would assist in building the region‘s resilience, provide a safer and more effective connection between some of the region‘s key industrial areas, and remove heavy trucks from Palmerston North‘s city centre.

Palmerston North City Council Mayor Grant Smith says engagement with regional stakeholders to reach a solution that achieves wider strategic objectives for both the region and the country as a whole was important.

“It is important for unlocking future regional economic development that the new State Highway 3 link offers connectivity and alignment to a proposed Regional Freight Ring Road and a new bridge. We are pleased this package of work achieves this,” Smith says.

“It is a great example of central and local government collaboration to optimise public investment in infrastructure for the long term, and reflects the impact of the new Government Policy Statement on Transport, which requires regional economic development considerations to be taken into account.”

Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis says that this outcome has strong support from a range of local authorities and industry representatives.

“The ongoing instability of the gorge, which ultimately led to its closure in April 2017, has caused huge disruption for the region. The replacement route has been a matter of priority for the local councils and mayors and it’s pleasing to have worked so constructively with the Transport Agency to reach a decision that addresses both the immediate issue and the longer term strategic issues for the Tararua District and the wider region,” Collis says.

A detailed business case on the new SH3 route will be finalised over the next few weeks. The project team will then seek resource consents with construction planned to begin in 2020, with the new road completed by 2024.

Option 3 will have an average incline gradient of 5.8%, with a maximum of 8% (in comparison, the current main alternative route, the Saddle Road, has a maximum gradient of 16%).

Travel time is estimated to be 13 minutes for general traffic (compared with an average 16.7 minutes that it took to travel the Manawatu Gorge).

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