Progress on state highways across Tairāwhiti


The devastation Cyclone Gabrielle has left in its wake on the East Coast has been immense, including on the region’s state highways.

Restoring access to isolated communities along the coast as quickly as can be done so safely is a key priority for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency says Central North Island Regional Manager Maintenance and Operations, Jaclyn Hankin.  

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this Cyclone.  We are doing everything we can to help, as quickly as we can.

“Our crews are working incredibly hard to re-open these vital links that our East Coast communities depend on – to access necessary services, such as food and healthcare, to get kids to school, to run businesses and to stay in touch with friends and whānau.

“We’re particularly aware of the impact on communities like Tokomaru Bay, which has been cut off at the Mangahauini Gorge to the north and at Hikuwai River bridge to the south.  

Both of these sites suffered major damage in the cyclone and will require short-term temporary solutions to provide access, followed by long term projects.  

Hikuwai River bridge collapsed during the cyclone, leaving a gap of about 90 metres in the road.  

Engineers are currently looking at requirements for the installation of a temporary Bailey Bridge over Hikuwai River, which requires the installation of new foundations and bridge piers, placing the bridge and building the approaches.

“At this stage, we are projecting it will take approximately two months to install and construct a temporary bridge over the Hikuwai River,” Ms Hankin says. “Current plans are to start construction in the week beginning Monday 6 March.”

Mangahauini Gorge has been blocked by a major slip, damming the river and forming a temporary lake, which is being inspected by scientists from Gisborne District Council and GNS to assess its safety. It is estimated to hold about 400,000 cubic metres of water, silt and trees, and represents a real risk to the Tokomaru Bay community. Waka Kotahi will be able to develop further plans for restoring the road connection in this location once these safety assessments are complete.

The Mangahauini River has also impacted SH35 between Tokomaru Bay and Te Puia Springs, where parts of the highway have eroded into the river due to water being redirected by the major slip in the gorge.

North of the Mangahauini Gorge, through to Waka Kotahi’s Bay of Plenty boundary, there are about 14 sites where the road will be down to one lane or otherwise compromised. The road is passable, however it remains open to emergency vehicles, essential services and residents only. Extreme care needs to be taken.

In more positive news, a project to stabilise SH35 at Kopuaroa Hill, approximately 10km north of Te Puia Springs, has been underway since August and been hit by numerous weather events. The resilience being built into this section of highway has helped withstand the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle with only minor damage reported.  

Ms Hankin says teams worked hard last week to open SH2 south between Gisborne and Wairoa soon after the cyclone passed, ensuring essential items could reach the hard-hit town. A key focus now is on transitioning SH2 north between Gisborne and Ōpōtiki from daylight only operation to full 24/7 access.  

“Our contractors and subcontractors are working in incredibly challenging environments where the ground is still saturated and on hillsides still vulnerable to further movement. It’s imperative we put their safety first, so clearing debris may take some time.

“Specialist teams have been deployed into the region to support the Gisborne Waka Kotahi office. We are undertaking detailed damage assessments on state highways – but it’s clear restoring the network entirely will take time and require significant investment.”

Waka Kotahi is also working alongside Gisborne and Wairoa District Council partners to support them in restoring their local road networks.

“We are leveraging all of our capacity to provide support to councils where it is needed most,” Ms Hankin says.

“While we are working to safely restore access along our state highways, in many cases these roads won’t be in the same condition as before Cyclone Gabrielle. As access is restored, roads are likely to be under temporary speed restrictions, have stop go/operations in place or even require detours.”

“The potential cost of repairs will not be understood until detailed damage assessments have been completed. Repair work is supported by local and central government with an extra $250m allocated to top up the National Land Transport Fund’s emergency works budget.

“Given the scale of the damage to many of our state highways Waka Kotahi recognises that serious consideration will need to be given to the form of future connections,” says Ms Hankin. “This work takes time due to its scale and complexity, but we will work with central government and our local partners to carry this out as quickly as possible.”

In the meantime, Ms Hankin asks everyone to please respect the crews on the ground.  

“Only travel if you need to, sightseeing trips on the network to see flood damaged areas hamper crews and create unnecessary traffic on the network slowing down our progress.

“If you must travel, drive to the conditions and follow the directions of all traffic management staff and signs. The faster people drive through silty and dusty areas, the more dust is created. Keeping your speed down and adhering to the temporary speed limits in place also helps keep our crews safe while they undertake this important work.”

Please note this information can change rapidly – ensure you check the latest weather conditions with MetService, and consult the Waka Kotahi Journey Planner for the most up to date information on road closures.

Waka Kotahi Journey Planner(external link)

For those who are unable to access the internet at this stage, please keep tuned to local radio for the latest Civil Defence advice. Local programmes are on The Breeze 97.5 and The Hits 89.5 and Civil Defence information on Newstalk ZB 96.7.

Journey Planner is updated 24/7 by Waka Kotahi traffic operations centres and is the best source of the most recent and reliable information available on state highway closures and disruptions. Remember to refresh the page when checking the status of highways to ensure that the latest updates are displayed.