Life is returning to normal on State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge, with traffic flowing smoothly after two days of two-lane operation.
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal says the NZTA is delighted to see two lanes of traffic moving through the gorge for the first time in thirteen months.
Traffic has been flowing through the site since late August, but with only one lane open and restrictions on eastbound travel. A second lane was opened on Wednesday night, meaning the gorge was now open to all traffic, 24/7.
“This section of highway has seen so much drama in the last year. It’s been host to the largest pile of dirt that’s ever landed on a New Zealand road, then it became a hive of reconstruction, and now, it’s back to being a two-lane highway,” says Mr McGonigal.
“It’s really rewarding to see life returning to normal for the people who rely on this route, and to see motorists getting through without the lengthy detours they’ve endured over the last thirteen months.”
Mr McGonigal says there are two pinch points where the highway was restricted to one lane, and that minor delays can be expected. Motorists are advised to keep a watch out for signs in case brief closures were required by construction crews.
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA will be in a position to wind down their efforts in coming weeks, and eventually pack up from the site.
“We’re continuing to wrap the hillside in netting to help to provide increased security and comfort for drivers, and we expect this work to take us a few more weeks.”
A total of 6000 square metres of rockfall netting is being added to the hillside. Other finishing touches being applied include the completion of the guardrails and laying down the final road surface.
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA remains keenly aware of the gorge closure’s impact on the Manawatu region.
“The closure of the gorge has affected lives and livelihoods in Manawatu and beyond, and we’ve been battling for more than a year to get to this point.
“It’s a huge relief.”
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA was pleased to hear that more traffic is now passing through Woodville and supporting the local businesses, and was particularly chuffed to hear that the iconic Bridge Café would reopen on 1 October.
He says the two-lane operation will reduce the strain on Ashhurst residents, who have stoically put up with the noise of trucks and other vehicles since the closure first happened.
He thanked the region for their understanding over the last thirteen months.
“The community has been incredibly patient and supportive during what has been a difficult time for them. We’ve never had a closure like this before in our lifetimes and we’ve been very conscious of how hard it’s been on everybody.”
Mr McGonigal also extended his gratitude to the various crews who had worked on the slip, the reconstruction effort, and on the alternative routes.
“The work these guys have done has been truly inspiring. They have held nothing back to get the Manawatu community back on the road again.”
He says Higgins crews would continue to work on the alternative routes.
“Now that the majority of traffic has been taken off the alternative routes, it gives us the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and carry out more repairs and maintenance to make journeys safer and easier."
“The gorge may be open but our crews will continue to look after the alternative routes for some time yet.”