The NZ Transport Agency says its contractors have been hard at work re-instating flood-affected roads, and with State Highway 54 expected to re-open today (Friday 3 July), only one section of the state highway network remains closed following the effects of last month's major flood event in and around Whanganui.
Regional Highways Manager David McGonigal says crews have worked around the clock to get roads cleared.
“Our initial priority was to make sure there was emergency access along State Highways 4 and 54. Having achieved this, our contractors have removed all silt and material from the highways making sure they are safe for everyone to use.
“We know that these roads are a lifeline to local businesses and residents, and our contractors have been working overtime to get the job done as quickly as possible and to get these roads open,” he says.
However, due to safety concerns, part of State Highway 4 remains closed to the public. There is still a lot of silt and debris on the road and drop outs where the road has fallen away. At this stage there are manned cordons in place, but these have been progressively moved as work is completed, allowing access to Upokongaro village.
“The road closure points for SH 4 were moved from Kaimatira Road to Raetihi; and to Kaiwhaiki Road (North of Upokongaro) to Raetihi late on Wednesday afternoon. There is an underslip on one section of SH4 within 500m of Upokongaro where traffic management is in place and a temporary electronic variable message sign has been installed near Kaimatira Road detailing the road closure locations,” Mr McGonigal says.
There are still two major areas of ongoing work on State Highway 54 to address slip and scour issues, at Waituna West and south of Vinegar Hill, and the road here will remain unsealed while work continues on repairing the road and clearing debris.
One section of State Highway 3 at Manawapou (10km south of Hawera) has a large drop out, with the road currently down to one lane. The highway will temporarily be realigned adjacent to but away from the slip to mitigate the risk of losing this section of the highway. The Transport Agency is aiming to have this new temporary road in place and open to two lanes later next week.
There are also many other sections of the highway network across the Taranaki, Whanganui & Manawatu regions requiring further remedial work to restore them to the level of service that was in place before the flooding. But with more rain expected during the next few days, Mr McGonigal says this could potentially cause further slips and bring more debris on roads. The Agency will closely monitor the situation and close roads if they cannot safely remain open.
Mr McGonigal said the Transport Agency was keeping a particularly close eye on SH 3 through the Manawatū Gorge. Although the Manawatū Gorge was reopened to two lanes for all traffic last Friday (26 June), he said considerable work is still required to repair damaged rock/net protection facilities.
“The Gorge is being regularly monitored and if heavy rain is predicted, it is likely that the Gorge will be closed as a precautionary measure. Motorists will be advised to take the alternative routes of the Pahiatua Track and the Saddle Road.”
Mr McGonigal reminds motorists that challenging conditions are widespread across the entire roading network, and urged motorists to keep drive cautiously and to comply with all temporary speed restrictions.
“Just because a highway is open doesn't mean it’s clear sailing. Debris, slips, blocked drains, surface flooding, one-lane restrictions and potholes are widespread, and it is essential people put safety first, travel at safe speeds and expect the unexpected.
“It is also essential to drive with extra care to keep contractors safe while they are working on the roads.”