State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge is no longer a safe road option and has been closed indefinitely. A safe resilient and efficient replacement SH3 corridor is required. The Transport Agency has been working with key stakeholders and the community to identify the preferred corridor for a new route connecting the Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and Northern Wairarapa. The new road will run from near the western entry of the closed SH3 gorge route, cross the Ruahine Ranges north of the gorge, and reconnect to SH3 at Woodville.
It is anticipated that Resource Management Act 1991 approvals could be obtained by mid to late 2019, followed by a construction start in early 2020. Construction could be complete by 2024.
State Highway 3 through the Manawatū Gorge has been closed since slips caused major damage to the road on 24 April 2017 following severe weather. Continued instability at the Kerry’s Wall site has closed the Manawatu Gorge indefinitely.
Geotechnical engineers recently confirmed a large area above the Kerry’s Wall rock face is highly unstable with the entire hillside is continuing to move. The rate of movement indicates a slip as large, or larger than, the 2011 slip, which closed the road for 14 months, could come down at any time.
During the weekend of 22–24 July 2017, another slip caused significant damage to the road in a new location towards the Ashhurst end of the Gorge. There have been further slips and cracks in the gorge since then. Those same risks mean the road cannot be safely re-opened for motorists, until the risks are resolved.
State highway traffic is being rerouted across the Saddle Road (north of the Gorge) and the Pahiatua Track (south of the gorge). Given the increased traffic and associated wear and tear on these local roads, the Transport Agency has taken over their maintenance and management since the middle of 2017. Significant upgrades have been carried out on the Saddle Road to ensure it is suitable for the increased traffic volumes. Works have also been undertaken on the Pahīatua Track to enable it to deal with the increase in traffic.
The Transport Agency acknowledges that the increase in traffic over the Saddle Road, particularly in terms of heavy vehicles, is causing disruption to Ashhurst residents. We have resealed Salisbury Road to reduce noise and speed cushions have been installed in a number of side streets.
The Transport Agency has received feedback that the closure of the SH3 gorge route has impacted on Woodville businesses. In response, we are undertaking works to try and direct traffic to and from the Saddle Road via Woodville to try and return traffic flows to pre-gorge closure levels.
In September and October, the community and stakeholders provided extensive feedback on a long list of options, providing valuable input as these options were assessed. Feedback was provided in writing, by email, via our Social Pinpoint online tool, and at public open days in Palmerston North, Ashhurst and Woodville. A workshop with key stakeholders from local councils, iwi, industry and other interest groups provided further important insights.
A second round of feedback took place in November when a short list of four options was released. Again, we had a high number and broad range of comments, and some key themes. These included: gradient/steepness; impact on local facilities and schools; travel time and time to construct. Many submissions touched on the impacts any new road will have on the communities on Woodville and Ashhurst, in particular.
There was also valuable commentary on local connectivity, including additional bridging, and we also gained valuable information about local ground and weather conditions. All this feedback contributed in the assessment of the four short listed options.
There were a number of workshops with mayors, local body chief executives, iwi and industry representatives as the shortlist of options was assessed.
The new road would be complementary to and support the development of the Regional Freight Ring Route, planning of which is being progressed by a Joint Working Group with local authority and industry representatives. Work that has been completed to date has indicated that the proposed ring route, which includes a new bridge across the Manawatū River, could unlock new regional development opportunities. In due course, the community will be consulted about the Regional Freight Ring Route.
No final decision has been made at this stage on the future of the current SH3 route through the gorge. We will continue to monitor the gorge for geological stability. While the current conditions are highly unstable and the road is not a viable long-term state highway option, we cannot categorically rule out the road ever re-opening in some form. Our priority now is moving forward and building a new long-term solution which will be safe, reliable and resilient.
Following confirmation of the preferred option, the Transport Agency will progress further investigation and design work. This work will include more detailed environmental and technical assessments to refine the design of the proposed alignment and support the development of an application for the relevant approvals under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The Transport Agency will also seek further feedback and engagement on the preferred option and design refinements prior to lodging any applications for RMA approvals. At this stage, it is envisaged that the Transport Agency would be prepared to lodge the relevant applications before the end of 2018.
The selected option affects a number of properties. We are talking to those directly affected landowners to discuss how the project may affect their property, and provide them with more information on their rights under the Resource Management Act 1991 (external link) and Public Works Act 1981.
If a property is required for a public work, negotiations for the purchase are conducted by a Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) accredited supplier on behalf of the Crown. The Crown makes acquisitions for the purpose of the NZ Transport Agency requirements.
The land purchase process is set out in the Public Works Act (PWA) and the following is the booklet provided to affected property owners:
Since two large slips closed the road on 24 April 2017, the evening before Anzac Day, the Transport Agency has:
There is a slip known as the ‘Anzac’ slip 6.4km from the Woodville end of the gorge. Around 10,000m3 material was removed from this site and the road has been repaired.
There is another slip at ‘Kerry’s Wall’ 4.5km from the Ashhurst turnoff on SH3. Around 5,000m3 was removed from this site.
Since Anzac Day, there have been three smaller slips at these same two locations.
Subsequently sometime on the weekend of 23–24 July there was another large slip about 500 metres from the locked gate at the Ashhurst end of the gorge. Approximately 10,000m3 of material, including large boulders, fell on the road. This slip has also caused significant damage to a bridge.
In late 2017 and early 2018, there have been further cracks and slips of varying sizes.
Approximately 7,600 vehicles on average used the SH3 gorge route every day when it was open. Approximately 1,100 of these vehicles were trucks.