The NZ Transport Agency says the rebuilding of the Manawatu Gorge highway is entering its final stages, with work progressing strongly despite a deluge of rain over the last week.
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal says that construction teams are continuing to soldier through the winter weather, and despite some minor setbacks the NZTA still expects to have traffic using the road by early September.
"Working throughout winter is always a challenge, and what the crews are tasked with, in such a short timeframe right through the worst of winter, is unprecedented in this country."
Mr McGonigal says construction of the structures is coming along well, and despite rising water levels causing some delays, work crews expect to remain on track for completion.
"The team were unable to install anchors to lock the main bridge onto the rockface, as the rising water levels meant they had to steer clear of their work platform, but they’ll be putting their foot down to make up for lost time over the next week."
Mr McGonigal says river levels rose to as high as 8m during the week, nearly four times the normal level.
He says concrete work on the main bridge is finished, with crews now waiting for the ‘curing’ of the concrete to take its course.
"Watching concrete dry may not rival the Olympics as a spectator sport, but seeing bridge structures to harden is quite rewarding for the team, as it literally means the new structure is getting stronger by the hour." He says applying the finishing touches to the joints and the new road surface will be carried out once the concrete has hardened.
Mr McGonigal says that despite the bad weather, the site has been bustling, with a big push on to link the brand new bridge at the Woodville end to the half-bridge that already exists.
"It’s quite a fiddly job, because we have to join up the old with the new, and make it happen seamlessly to ensure it’s structurally sound and provides an easy transition for motorists. We’ve set up temporary cantilever work platforms with staff working off ropes and harnesses or suspended from a crane, so it’s pretty challenging physical work as well as being technically precise.
He says the crew are creating ‘made to measure’ concrete moulds onsite for the remaining structures, as well as steel cages to reinforce the concrete. This work is expected to take another three weeks.
Meanwhile drilling has continued in other areas, and the drilling rig has been suspended from a crane to enable this work to continue safely.
Mr McGonigal says excellent progress has been made on the large retaining wall structure, which will help create room and flexibility to help move traffic through the site while the finishing touches are applied in September.
Meanwhile work is continuing on the Saddle Rd detour route with recent improvements at the intersection of Woodlands/Oxford Rd. He says the recent pounding from the weather has damaged the road surface, and crews are making repairs while the weather is dry.
"We appreciate the Saddle Road has seen better days after the hammering it’s gotten from the rain, and our crews have been making the most of the window of opportunity presented by the few dry days we’ve had. We ask motorists to respect Mother Nature on this challenging route, and to drive to the conditions at all time and be aware that the surface can be slippery."
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA thank motorists for their care and patience on the alternative routes over winter.