The NZ Transport Agency is closing in on the completion of the second bench at the Manawatu Gorge slip site, at which point machines will be fully committed to snaking their way down the slope until the benching is complete.
NZTA acting regional state highways manager John Jones says despite bad weather holding up work for a few days, the team from Higgins are making strong progress stabilising the upper slope and clearing the road below.
"The benching crew have made excellent progress on the second bench. We are working at full capacity and expect to have it completed over the next week."
Mr Jones says the road clearing crew has also been going full tilt at the bottom of the slip. Crews are removing 1000-1500 cubic meters of rocks, soil and debris daily.
"Once the second bench is done, we will start to form the third bench. This is the "point of no return", meaning that the machinery will have to stay on the slip until all the benches are formed and they can safely track down to the road."
"Crews will be able to walk in and out of the worksite-via hand-cut stairs along the side of the slip-but the machines will not be able to come up to the top again. We will be refueling them using an extended hose."
Mr Jones says rain over the holiday period partially cleared the delta that has formed across the river, and more was washed away as the river peaked this morning.
He says the NZTA is continuing to work closely with Horizons Regional Council, MWH and Higgins to minimise any risks to the river associated with the slip, and the road crew is trucking out as much material as possible to keep it from going into the river. The stretch of river 200 metres either side of the slip will remain closed until the land above is stable, to protect all river users from falling debris that may be dislodged from the earthworks above.
Work is also continuing to keep both Saddle Road and the Pahiatua Track in the best condition possible. The second half of Woodlands Road has been widened, and resealing is underway, and the NZTA will continue a heightened maintenance programme on both roads until State Highway 3 can be reopened.
All the latest info on what's happening at the gorge can be found at the NZTA's dedicated webpage www.nzta.govt.nz/manawatu-gorge(external link).