The Transport Agency is fast-tracking the development of an alternative to the State Highway 3 link through the Manawatū Gorge, connecting the Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and Northern Wairarapa. The Manawatū Gorge is no longer a safe option and has been closed indefinitely. A safe resilient and efficient alternative is required. The Transport Agency is working with key stakeholders and the community to identify the preferred corridor by early 2018.
State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge has been closed since slips caused major damage to the road on 24 April 2017 following severe weather, and the road remains closed. Continued instability at the Kerry’s Wall site is hampering efforts to make the road safe adding to the complexity of the work.
Geotechnical engineers recently confirmed a large area above the Kerry’s Wall rock face is highly unstable with the entire hillside moving. The rate of movement indicates a slip as large, or larger than, the 2011 slip, which closed the road for 14 months, could come down at any time.
During the weekend of 22–24 July 2017, another slip caused significant damage to the road at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge. As a result the Transport Agency removed all contractors from the current work sites for safety reasons. Those same risks mean the road cannot be safely re-opened for motorists, until the risks are resolved.
State highway traffic is being rerouted across the Saddle Road (north of the Gorge) and the Pahīatua Track (south of the gorge). Given the increased traffic and associated wear and tear on these local roads, the Transport Agency has taken over their maintenance and management since the middle of 2017.
Contractors began urgent heavy maintenance works on Saddle Road in mid-July 2017, including resurfacing the pavement to improve motorists’ journeys. The Saddle Road upgrade project will continue in summer, to improve the last two sections of the road and ensure they are suitable for the increased traffic volumes.
Works are also undertaken on the Pahīatua Track to ensure the road is better equipped to deal with the increase in traffic.
The Transport Agency acknowledges that the increase in traffic over the Saddle Road, particularly in terms of heavy vehicles, is causing disruption to Ashhurst residents. We have resealed Salisbury Road to reduce noise and are installing speed cushions through residential areas. The existing situation will remain for the foreseeable future, and the Transport Agency will continue to explore ways to mitigate the strain on the Ashhurst population.
The Transport Agency has received feedback that the closure of the Gorge road has impacted on Woodville businesses. In response, we have undertaken works to try and direct traffic to and from the Saddle Road via Woodville to try and return traffic flows to pre-Gorge closure levels. However, the existing situation will remain for the foreseeable future and the Transport Agency will continue to explore ways to discourage traffic from bypassing Woodville.
In September and October, the community and stakeholders provided extensive feedback on a long list of options, providing valuable input as these options were assessed. Feedback was provided in writing, by email, via our Social Pinpoint online tool, and at public open days in Palmerston North, Ashhurst and Woodville. A workshop with key stakeholders from local councils, iwi, industry and other interest groups provided further important insights.
A second round of feedback took place in November when a short list of four options was released. Again, we had a high number and broad range of comments, and some key themes. These included: gradient/steepness; impact on local facilities and schools; travel time and time to construct. Many submissions touched on the impacts any new road will have on the communities on Woodville and Ashhurst, in particular.
There was also valuable commentary on local connectivity, including additional bridging, and we also gained valuable information about local ground and weather conditions. All this feedback is contributing in the assessment of the four short listed options.
The Transport Agency expects to be able to announce its preferred approach by early 2018, with a detailed business case expected to be completed by mid-2018.
No final decision has been made at this stage on the future of the current SH3 route through the gorge. We will continue to monitor the gorge for geological stability. While the current conditions are highly unstable and the road is not a viable long-term state highway option, we cannot categorically rule out the road ever re-opening in some form. Our priority now is moving forward and building a new long-term solution which will be safe, reliable and resilient.
As we are still assessing the short listed options, we are not yet in a position to provide detailed information on the exact routes for each option. More detailed work will be required to understand the impacts of testing changes to gradient and curves and this will likely substantially influence impacts on properties. It is not possible at present to say with certainty how many properties will be affected.
When a preferred approach has been chosen and developed we will have further information on which properties may be affected. We will be contacting property owners as soon as this information is available.
The Transport Agency would complete further route and design work to support a detailed business case. Should this be approved by the NZ Transport Agency Board, the agency would then seek the approvals required under the Resource Management Act 1991 (external link) . At this stage, it is envisaged that those approvals would be sought in 2018/19.
If a property is required for a public work, negotiations for the purchase are conducted by a Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) accredited supplier on behalf of the Crown. The Crown makes acquisitions for the purpose of the NZ Transport Agency requirements.
The land purchase process is set out in the Public Works Act (PWA) and the following is the booklet provided to affected property owners:
Since two large slips closed the road on 24 April 2017, the evening before Anzac Day, the Transport Agency has:
There is a slip known as the ‘Anzac’ slip 6.4km from the Woodville end of the Gorge. Around 10,000m3 material was removed from this site and the road has been repaired.
There is another slip at ‘Kerry’s Wall’ 4.5km from the Ashhurst turnoff on SH3. Around 5,000m3 was removed from this site.
Since Anzac Day, there have been three smaller slips at these same two locations.
Subsequently sometime on the weekend of 23–24 July there was another large slip about 500 metres from the locked gate at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge. Approximately 10,000m3 of material, including large boulders, fell on the road.
Approximately 7,600 vehicles on average used the Gorge every day when it was open. Approximately 1,100 of these vehicles were trucks.
A safe and reliable road between the Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and northern Wairarapa is essential for the economic wellbeing of New Zealand and our communities. The Transport Agency is committed to find the best long-term solution that will support economic development and growth for the central and lower North Island through a safe, efficient and resilient state highway network.