The NZ Transport Agency says the new road structures at the Manawatu Gorge are substantially complete, and work is entering its closing stages as the highway looks set to reopen to two lanes in the next month.
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal says the NZTA has completed all work constructing the bridges and retaining wall, and connecting them to the existing highway. The remaining work involves further securing the hillside and linking up the new guardrail with the old one.
“The noise and hubbub of heavy machinery has died down quite a bit now that the piling and concreting is all done. We now need to finish rock anchoring and netting – that is, drilling steel bolts into the hillside to secure it, then binding it with super-strong netting.”
“While the benching operation has made the hillside secure as a whole, rock anchoring and netting is an important safeguard to protect motorists by containing isolated debris spills.
“Once this precautionary work is largely finished, we’ll be able to open up a second lane and get this highway humming along at full capacity.”
Mr McGonigal says the bridge building teams have now left the site after one of the most outstanding coordinated construction efforts ever seen on a New Zealand highway.
“The finished job may not look spectacular, but it‘s been a spectacular effort getting there. The team had to plan, design and build a multifaceted series of structures right through a wet and wild winter. What they’ve accomplished in that time is unique.
“They’ve gone from start to finish in the same time it often takes to draw up the blueprints. To keep so many balls in the air at once, in a race against time and in such a tough and tight environment – it’s been a thorny task and they’ve nailed it.”
Mr McGonigal says traffic is flowing smoothly through the site, and after successfully allowing two-way traffic through last weekend during the daytime, the NZTA will endeavour to do the same this weekend, traffic flows permitting.
“Traffic flow in the weekend is much lighter than during the weekdays, and we’re less inclined to have extra busy periods, so this means we can keep the road open for everyone in both directions.”
Mr McGonigal reminds motorists that trucks will need to supply materials to the site and there will be some crane operations onsite, and this could cause delays or closures at short notice. Motorists are asked to keep their eyes peeled for signs to guide the way.
He says the NZTA is pleased to hear police have noted an improvement in safety on the Saddle Road since the gorge was partially reopened.
“The police have done an outstanding job patrolling the alternative routes in what have been challenging conditions over many months. We believe this ongoing police presence, combined with the good work Higgins have done and more watchful driver behaviour, has helped to keep crashes down.”