Relief is just around the corner for Manawatu motorists, with the NZ Transport Agency confirming today that it expects to reopen the Manawatu Gorge to one lane mid to late next week.
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal says crews have made strong and consistent progress throughout the week, and the planned one-lane reopening - which was brought forward last week from early September to late August - is firmly on schedule.
Mr McGonigal says a controlled reopening of the road, similar to the partial reopening in early winter, was planned for mid to late next week, weather and conditions permitting. An update will be issued next week once a reopening time is confirmed.
Next week's reopening will involve one-way traffic from Woodville to Ashhurst (East to West) between 8am and 6pm. Two-way traffic, controlled by traffic lights, will be let through at night-time. At all other times, people travelling from Ashhurst to Woodville (West to East) would continue to use the alternative routes.
Mr McGonigal says that while a full reopening is still a matter of weeks away, getting one lane reopened will mean around two thirds of journeys through the alternative routes can now return to the gorge.
"It will be hugely rewarding to have the bridge open to traffic. While it's a similar arrangement to what we had a couple of months ago, this will be on brand new, permanent infrastructure that will serve the gorge for years to come."
"Opening up one lane will save people money and fuel, and crucially, time. We appreciate that being able to spend an extra half hour with your loved ones every day can make a big difference, and from next week this will once again be a reality."
Mr McGonigal says the project has been successfully progressed on an accelerated timeframe, enabling the road to open sooner.
"Normally a project of this scale would take one or two years to plan, design and build, and the team have carried out a remarkable coordinated effort in getting so much done in so little time."
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA acknowledge the patience and resolve of the affected communities, particularly in Woodville and Ashhurst.
"A year is a long time to wait, and it's a long time to endure disruption on a daily basis. The community has shown extraordinary spirit throughout this difficult time."
Mr McGonigal says bad weather has continued to affect the alternative routes, and the reopening will provide some long-awaited relief to enable these routes to recover from the pounding they've had from heavy rain and traffic over winter.
"Mother Nature's kept us busy on the alternative routes, and we thank motorists for their ongoing care and patience in challenging conditions. Wet weather makes the road more vulnerable to damage and also makes it difficult to repair. As soon as the sun comes out, our contractors leap at the chance to patch up the road. This means that during drier weather, people will notice the Higgins crews out in force working hard to fill in the potholes and make the road safer."
For more information about the Manawatu Gorge, people can visit www.nzta.govt.nz/manawatu-gorge(external link), or email email@example.com.