The NZ Transport Agency says the fourth bench is well underway at the Manawatu Gorge, as crews slog increasingly closer to the pivotal fifth bench.
NZTA state highways manager David McGonigal says crews began work on the fourth stabilising bench on Tuesday, and are making steady headway.
"The weather has been very good to us which has enabled great progress by the team - it almost seems like Mother Nature's trying to make amends.
"There's still a lot of work to be done but we're getting closer to bench five, and once we've completed that we'll be in a position to assess how we proceed from here on in."
Mr McGonigal said that while progress was good, the amount of rock on the hillside continues to present a challenge for the crews on the slope.
"The machines are still uncovering some fairly large boulders and it looks like we may have to bring in the rock breaker again to speed things along."
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA are spraying another batch of hydroseeding on all the batters (slopes), comprising a mix of mulch, water, and grass and moss seed.
"Not only does hydroseeding provide an immediate food source for the germinating seeds, it will also capture and encourage further plant growth to jump-start the regeneration of plant life on the slope," says Mr McGonigal.
Mr McGonigal noted that most of the bush that the NZTA removed to access the slip was scrub, and very few trees had to be felled. A large Rata tree has been carefully removed from the Ashhurst end of the slip and it will be replanted behind the stream bridge railings when the NZTA finishes clearing and re-stabilising the slip.
In regards to the Saddle Road, Mr McGonigal says the NZTA is prioritising the worst sections of the road surface and will have them fixed as soon as is practicable.
"Any upgrades that can be done now, while still keeping this vital detour open, are being done. This includes work at the Lower Saddle Road curve realignment and the slow vehicle bay near the wind farm. We're also keeping a close eye on the Pahiatua Track and have crews out there maintaining the road. We've identified some sections of the road surface that have developed corrugations, or ridges, and we will be re-grading those areas shortly.
'We've also completed the intersection design for Oxford Road/Woodlands Road and are ready to crack on with the work as soon as the necessary property agreements are finalised."
Mr McGonigal thanked the public for their ongoing patience and support, and the Higgins crews for their continued perseverance in difficult working conditions.
All Manawatu Gorge updates and media releases, plus more photographs and diagrams, are on the NZTA's dedicated Manawatu Gorge web page - http://nzta.govt.nz/manawatu-gorge(external link).