Additional work is underway to improve Saddle Road as significant rockfall risks prevent re-opening of State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge; starting today.
The NZ Transport Agency says an urgent programme of additional work will get underway immediately to significantly improve the Saddle Road detour route as new geotechnical information has highlighted major safety risks in the Manawatu Gorge. Those risks are likely to keep the road closed for some time.
Regional Transport System Manager Ross I’Anson said that while a significant amount of work had been undertaken in the gorge to clear slips which had come down since April, geotechnical engineers had now confirmed that a large area above the Kerry’s Wall rock face is highly unstable, with an imminent risk of further significant slips or rockfalls.
“Geotechnical assessments have confirmed that the entire hillside is moving, and the rate of that movement is accelerating. That’s an indication that a slip as large or larger than the 2011 slip which closed the road for 14 months could come down at any time.”
Mr I’Anson said the immediate risk of another large slip coming down in the gorge required the Transport Agency to remove all contractors from the current work sites for safety reasons, and those same risks meant the road could not be safely re-opened for motorists.
“We know that this news will add to the considerable frustration and stress which local businesses and residents are already dealing with. We understand the impact that this ongoing closure has on people’s lives, but the safety of road users is paramount and the current unstable conditions in the gorge mean it simply cannot be opened to traffic until more work is done to fully understand the risks and how they might be mitigated.
“We’re committed to keeping people informed as the situation develops, and we’ll continue to work closely with the Tararua District Council to do everything possible to help people and businesses in the region for as long as the Gorge remains closed.”
Mr I’Anson said that until the movement of the hillside at Kerry’s wall slowed or stopped it was not possible to carry out further work at the site or predict when the road might re-open.
While the Transport Agency was already investing $8.5 million in an upgrade to improve the safety and resilience of the Saddle Road, allowing it to better cope with increased traffic volumes at times like this when the Manawatu Gorge is closed, Mr I’Anson said more work was planned.
“The significant length of the current closure has put the Saddle Road under added pressure, and the Transport Agency will be working to upgrade the road and keep it safe. The reality is that the Saddle Road will effectively be functioning as the state highway connection for this part of the country for some time.”
The Transport Agency has now agreed to take over full responsibility for the maintenance and management of the Saddle Road from the Tararua District Council for as long as the gorge remains closed, so any repairs and remedial work would be managed and funded by the Transport Agency.
While wet weather had delayed work which was planned for earlier this week, Mr I’Anson said pavement upgrades and repair work were beginning today (7 July) on sections of the Saddle Road which had not yet been upgraded.
Mr I’Anson said in parallel to the work to address the issues in the Gorge and support the current detour routes, the Transport Agency would also be looking at a range of long-term options to bypass or replace the current Manawatū Gorge route.
4 October 2017
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