The NZ Transport Agency says motorists will be back travelling through the State Highway 3 Manawatu Gorge this weekend if work to stabilise the slope continues to progress well.
Regional journey manager Delaney Myers says the Transport Agency is aiming to reopen the Gorge to one lane of traffic from Saturday morning onwards, if conditions allow. The road would be open from 7am to 6pm, with concrete barriers and a catch fence in place to keep motorists safe.
“Our crews are continuing to make great headway bringing down loose material from the slope. The more loose material they bring down, the more confidence we have that the rockface is becoming secure.
“It’s incredibly challenging work, dangling from a rope and whittling down a rockface, and they’ve made outstanding progress.
“If everything goes as we expect, the road will be open to all traffic, with single lane access and traffic lights to allow motorists in each direction to take turns.
“We’re aware that more heavy rain is forecast this weekend, and the one-lane traffic control will help to keep motorists safe in case more material comes down.
“Once the weekend’s poor weather has passed, we will reassess the site with the intention of running it 24-7.”
Ms Myers warned motorists that plans could change at short notice, and to allow sufficient time for a Saddle Road journey just in case, and to follow all signage.
“As always, safety is our top priority, so if the situation changes or we are concerned about the stability of the slip face, we will not hesitate to close the gorge.”
Ms Myers says over the coming weeks the Agency will be installing rockfall netting across the slip face.
Ms Myers says the Agency remain sympathetic to people who have been inconvenienced by the closure. “We know that all the time, money and fuel add up, and we’re dedicated to getting the gorge reopened swiftly and safely.”
Ms Myers says the Gorge would only be open during daylight hours, as this would enable onsite staff to keep an eye on conditions. From 6pm onwards, traffic will be detoured back to the alternative routes.
The lane closest to the slip site will remain closed, with concrete barriers and a catch fence to protect motorists. The single lane access will be controlled by traffic lights at the slip site, with a spotter on duty who will flick all signals to red if there is movement on the slipface above.
She says the Agency applauds Higgins, MWH and Groundfix for their work restoring the slip site, and to Stringfellows for their efforts in keeping the Saddle Road operational under difficult circumstances. The Agency also thanks the Tararua, Palmerston North and Manawatu District councils for their support and the use of their roads.
Ms Myers reminds motorists that the Gorge remains closed in the meantime, and that people must drive with care through the town of Ashhurst and the Saddle Road to ensure the safety of themselves, residents, and other motorists.