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Massive effort to connect communities after lower North Island floods

Mother Nature threw her all at the lower North Island in recent weeks, requiring a massive effort from the Transport Agency and its partners and suppliers to restore access to communities across the region.

North Island floods

Two major storms – on May 14th and the weekend of June 20th – brought the Central region to a standstill with whole communities isolated and homeless due to record breaking flood levels.

Transport Agency staff, contractors, local councils, geotechnical and structural engineers and others teamed up to help out.

"The severity of the flooding meant that we had to wait for the water to recede before being able to properly gauge the damage and work out what needed to be done to repair and restore the network," says Mark Owen, the NZ Transport Agency’s Regional Performance Manager.

“It was all hands on deck, pitching in to do whatever was needed – from undertaking structural assessments of bridges and retaining walls, assessing slips and handling media enquiries, to clearing silt and debris from the roads, liaising with Civil Defence centres, and keeping local residents, travellers and stakeholders up to speed with progress,” he says.

One of many critical jobs was to get the Waikawa Stream Bridge on State Highway 1 restored, as it is a vital north-south link, providing access to the lower North Island. 

“Crews worked in atrocious conditions to successfully get this bridge reopened a little more than a day after its closure, which was a phenomenal effort,” says Mark.

“Capital Journeys did a great job leading this work which involved 25 staff, four excavators, two rollers and more than a dozen trucks.”

Manawatu and Whanganui regions were the most badly affected.  The Transport Agency’s Regional Highways Manager David McGonigal and his team were right in the thick of it.

"So many people pulled together in challenging circumstances and worked tirelessly day and night to help restore the roading network across the region and to let everyone know what was going on. I want to say a huge thanks to everyone involved for their efforts, expertise and energy."

The hard work extended from road crews working in abysmal weather to repair roads and restore access, to Transport Agency teams working in Palmerston North, Wellington Transport Operations Centre and Wellington regional offices working with emergency services, their local government colleagues and media to keep people informed of progress.

“We’re used to working odd hours when things go wrong on the network,” says Central Region Media Manager Anthony Frith, “but it’s not often that we get thanked for our work. So when we received an email from the head of news at MediaWorks thanking us for our efforts to keep them updated of what was happening during the floods it certainly put a smile on our faces.”

The Road Transport Association NZ Inc also wrote to thank the Transport Agency on behalf of its members for the “timely and extremely informative information” during the recent weather events – saying members appreciated having vital road closure information early so they could plan alternative routes or keep their customers informed about goods delivery status.

David says it will take some time to clear up and fully restore the state highways that service this region, so the response is ongoing.

"There's still a lot of cleaning up to do, and in some parts of the highway network the solution isn’t going to be a quick fix. We’ll continue working to restore access to communities and to provide regular updates to our stakeholders."

The flood also had a significant impact on council roads, particularly in Whanganui, South Taranaki and Ruapehu Districts. As the National Land Transport Fund contributes to the cost of restoring and reinstating these networks, the Transport Agency’s Planning and Investment staff have been working alongside councils on the scope and cost of the work required, while assisting in supplying that information into the wider government response.