The NZ Transport Agency says it is endeavouring to open a temporary diversion route through the Waioeka Gorge near Gisborne tomorrow morning (Thursday 29 March), provided that no significant slip movement has occurred overnight.
NZTA Bay of Plenty state highway manager Brett Gliddon said the NZTA plans to open the single-lane temporary diversion route by 9am tomorrow, as long a morning onsite geological safety assessment confirms that the slope has not moved overnight to ensure the temporary route is safe for vehicles to travel on.
"We're very conscious that people are eager to get through, and we're on the verge of opening the temporary diversion, although this will depend on conditions being favourable in the morning and the hillside being assessed as safe and stable.
"We are itching to get the road open, but safety is our top concern."
Mr Gliddon says that while the opening the temporary diversion will be an encouraging milestone, motorists should still expect delays, as the road will be a one lane operation with a 30 km/h speed restriction. The temporary diversion road will operate from 8.00am to 5.30pm.
Mr Gliddon says there is a possibility that the temporary route will also be opened to night traffic, but further assessment of the stability of the slip face would be required to ensure this could be done safely.
“Initially the road will be open during the hours of daylight only, as it is difficult to detect potential slips or rock falls at night. We’ll have spotters constantly monitoring the slip face, and once we are confident that it has stabilised sufficiently and there is no safety risk for vehicles travelling at night, the temporary road will be opened for all hours of use”, says Mr Gliddon.
Mr Gliddon paid tribute to the hard work of NZTA contractors who have worked long hours in difficult conditions to prepare the temporary diversion for tomorrow’s opening.
"Our hats are off to the teams at Downer and Opus- constructing this temporary diversion has been a superb effort, given the very difficult conditions they're working in.”
Mr Gliddon says contractors have been on-site since the slip came down and the diversion route had been completed as quickly as it was safe to do so.
"We are fully aware of the impact that this closure is having on the region's economy, particularly for commercial transport operators, but we cannot put the safety of our contractors in jeopardy by rushing the job, and we also have to be sure that any temporary route is safe for motorists before it is opened.
“In these situations tensions can be high and we appreciate that most transport operators have been supportive of our crew’s hard work in treacherous conditions, we want to thanks these operators for understanding our need to put the safety and wellbeing of the men and women working to get this slip cleared a priority.
"We know that most local residents and businesses are appreciative of the efforts of the tenacious crews working long hours in hard conditions to get the gorge reopened for truckies and other motorists. We will not risk the lives of these hard-working people for the sake of opening the road a few days earlier, and we make no apologies for putting safety first."
For up to date information on the Waioeka Gorge closure visit our website www.nzta.govt.nz/waioeka-gorge(external link).