The NZ Transport Agency says a substantial programme of safety and strengthening work is ramping up along the alternate state highway route from Picton to Christchurch, via the Lewis Pass.
“While NZTA crews are working hard to clear slips generated by the November 14 earthquakes on the inland Mt Lyford road and on State Highway 1 south of Kaikoura, work is also hitting high gear on the Lewis Pass alternate highway,” says Transport Agency Regional Performance Manager Pete Connors.
Mr Connors says an immediate focus is being put into upgrading SH63 near St Arnaud in the weeks leading up to the very busy Christmas/New Year travel period.
“Crews will be resealing the road at 14 separate sites on the highway leading into Christmas, with repairs and road-widening happening at several sites. This work will get underway this week and will be completed before Christmas. Design work is also underway to widen the narrowest section of SH63 near Kawatiri Junction known as Howard Narrows.
“Over the whole alternate highway route from Picton to Waipara, around 24 kilometres of new chip sealing is planned over several different sites for this summer.
“Contractors will also be installing a network of new safety and speed restriction signs along the route, with initial work already underway. This new network of safety signage will help to support increased and highly visible Police enforcement all along the route to keep everyone safe.
“The Transport Agency is also planning on widening the road at several critical points to help ensure that the larger number of cars and trucks using the alternate route can travel safely in both directions, with work already underway at a number of sites.
“Additional slow vehicle bays are also planned to help faster moving traffic pass safely while slow vehicles pull over, and more safe rest areas for truck drivers are being made available all along the route. We’re working closely with freight operators and councils to determine the best locations for these additional truck pull-over spots.”
Mr Connors says with State Highway 1 unavailable for through traffic from Picton to Christchurch, the alternate route will be the main state highway connection for this part of the country for some time, and the Transport Agency is committed to keeping the route safe and open.
“This route needs to function safely and effectively to keep people connected and keep the region’s economy growing while we work to restore full access to State Highway 1. There is a significant increase in traffic on the alternate route, putting the road under a good deal of strain, and the we’re firmly committed to actively maintaining, upgrading and repairing this route to keep it safe for everyone.”
Mr Connors says with a significant programme of work already underway on the alternate state highway route, motorists should expect to see additional work crews on the network making improvements and responding rapidly to repair potholes and other damage caused by the heavier traffic.
While some delays are inevitable while work is carried out on the route, Mr Connors says contractors will do everything possible to minimise disruptions and provide as much notice as possible to the community and freight operators for significant works. He also urged motorists to be patient and plan ahead to complete their journeys safely.
“We know there are lots of popular holiday spots in the top of the South and the work we are doing on the highway will help people reach their destinations safely. As the journey is now longer than the old SH1 route, people may also want to consider staying in Marlborough or heading over to Nelson to break up their trip.
“There are speed restrictions in place in several locations, so it’s important that drivers are especially mindful of their speeds and on the lookout for pedestrians and cyclists when driving through these small towns. We need everyone to play their part to keep themselves and others safe on the alternate route.”
The following photos show a 'rock saw' carving out the hillside on a narrow section of SH65 on the Nelson side of the Shenendoah Saddle to widen the road and make it safer and easier for trucks to safely travel through.