NZTA welcomes Saddle Road safety crackdown as crews toilaway on Gorge


The NZ Transport Agency is welcoming NZ Police's move to crack down on speeding on the Saddle Road, while work continues to improve the safety of the route and to stabilise the slip site at the Manawatu Gorge.

NZTA acting state highways manager John Jones says the NZTA is encouraged by the increase in police enforcement as part of Operation Detour, and says the crackdown will help to keep motorists safe.

"We're really concerned at the recent spate of crashes, and we're thrilled that police have responded so quickly by dedicating resources to enforce the speed restrictions to ensure people are driving safely and to the conditions."

"We're a little worried that as motorists get used to driving the Saddle Road, some complacency is creeping in around the 70km/h speed restrictions. Saddle Road is not built for high speeds, and it's crucial people stick to the posted speed limits, not just for their own safety but for the safety of others.

"Saddle Rd was designed for much less traffic than it currently has to cope with, and we appreciate it's not an ideal situation. Our crews are working around the clock to carry out repairs and improvements.  Ideally we would close it so it could be fully upgraded, but that's not possible because of the high volume of traffic that needs the route while the gorge road stays shut."

Mr Jones says the 70km speed restriction signs on Saddle Road will be repeated every kilometre, and additional speed advisory signs will be erected on curves.

In the light of the bus accident last week, the NZTA will also no longer allow oversize vehicles on the Saddle Road from 7 - 9am and 4 - 7pm Monday to Friday.  Oversize vehicles will be able to use the Pahiatua Track during these hours, as it is wider than the Saddle Road.

Mr Jones says the Woodlands Road upgrade is now complete, and the upgrade of Oxford Road will begin next week.  This work should take about four weeks, weather permitting.

Meanwhile at the Gorge, Higgins crews are making steady progress stabilising the hillside, and are now well underway cutting the third bench.

"Our plan is to at cut least five benches before assessing whether or not to continue benching down to road level, so it's great to be more than halfway there.

"It's been a hard slog, with crews working long hours six days a week  -moving to seven from next Tuesday - often from 6am to 8pm - and there's plenty more work ahead.  The crews up there on the slope have a huge and difficult task, and their dedication is commendable.

"As we make our way down the slip, we're striking more and more rock, and when we push it off the slip it becomes dangerous to remove material at the bottom.  Three times a day, the road crew moves off the slip, allowing the diggers at the top to push the rocks and dirt down to the trucks below.

Mr Jones says the edge of Bench #1 ("the batter") was hydroseeded with grass late last year, and it's taking hold well.  Planting helps stabilise the batter, so the NZTA intends hydroseeding the subsequent benches with moss, as this will trap seeds from adjacent plants and encourage the regeneration of native species.

Detailed and up to date information about the gorge closure can be found on the NZTA's dedicated Manawatu Gorge website.