The NZ Transport Agency says the Manawatu Gorge slip is now less than one-third of its original size thanks to 24/7 carting operations, but there is still work ahead of crews before the highway can be reopened.
NZTA regional state highways manager David McGonigal says crews have enjoyed another week of excellent progress up on the slip.
“In terms of clearing the massive amount of debris, we are well and truly headed for the home stretch.
“Our 24/7 operations have really sped things up, and I’m happy to say that we are well on track to meet the mid-May goal of having all the material removed from the road. At that point we’ll be in to fix the road and bridges. The guys have done an amazing job stabilising the hillside and clearing the slip, but we are chomping at the bit to crack on with these repairs. “
“Getting all the way down to road level is going to be a huge milestone for us all. Our original estimate was that we would be clearing approximately 300,000 cubic meters, but we now know that it’s closer to 370,000. And to put that in perspective, if we tried to stick it all in Wellington’s Cake Tin, it would overflow the sides.
“To date we’ve removed over 260,000 cubic metres, leaving us about 108,000—less than a third to go. And with carting operations going round the clock, we are really starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“However, the slip does continue to throw us a few curve balls. Both the mid-section and the Ashhurst end are full of extremely hard material, and the boys are having to break through a fair few bits of pretty solid rock, but it’s slowly but surely disappearing as we progress downwards.”
Mr McGonigal says down on the road, investigations into the bridge damage are ongoing. Assessments have so far indicated that some of the bridge beams have buckled and there are visible cracks in the concrete. He says contractors will be installing new hollow core beams for the damaged Ashhurst end bridge once the road has been cleared.
Mr McGonigal says work continues along the Saddle Road to keep it in the best possible condition until the gorge is reopened, and is urging drivers to remain patient and understanding while travelling on this route.
‘We appreciate it can be frustrating having to drive the alternative routes day in, day out, but until we can get the main road reopened we all have to remember to drive safely and to the conditions. It’s better to arrive a little late to your destination than not at all.”
Mr McGonigal also paid tribute to the resilience of the community throughout the lengthy closure.
“It’s not easy to take it in your stride when Mother Nature personally affects your business, community and family for such a long time, and people have been incredibly patient and understanding under the circumstances. We’d like to thank everyone for that—the business owners in Woodville, the residents of Ashhurt, the truckies and bus drivers, and the thousands of other motorists who are being affected by this closure every day.“