The NZ Transport Agency says while a complete rebuild of at least one section of SH60 between Riwaka and Takaka will be required following the significant damage wrought by Cyclone Gita, the immediate focus is on re-establishing single-lane access as soon as possible.
Transport Agency System Manager Frank Porter says the Transport Agency is aiming to provide restricted single-lane access for essential vehicles through the route from this Sunday (25 February).
Travel will be one-way, under escort in guided convoys, with strict safety controls in place from 9 am to 5 pm.
Mr Porter says the convoys will be allowed to proceed pending final checks at daybreak from geotechnical and safety engineers on Sunday morning, that escorted travel can be carried out safely.
The Transport Agency will update its Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly as this event progresses and also update the wait times on each side so people are informed as to how long they may have to wait. People need to be prepared to wait in the parking areas.
“We understand how vital this road is as a lifeline for people in Golden Bay. We are doing everything possible to re-establish access as soon as possible, but the road has been severely damaged, and we must be certain that people can get through safely before we can re-open.”
Mr Porter says crews have made great progress clearing debris from more than a dozen large slips this week, but the hillside has completely collapsed at a site approximately 1.5km west of Riwaka, taking most of the road with it.
“Our work crews are working urgently to make this site stable enough to safely open up a single-lane track.”
Mr Porter stressed that on Sunday, priority will be given to essential vehicles and those most urgently needing to get in and out of the region.
“We’re urging people who don’t absolutely need to travel immediately to allow us to give priority to those who do. The most pressing need is getting fuel, feed for stock and essential freight into Golden Bay, and getting milk and other freight, tourists and people who need to attend medical appointments to the Nelson side of the hill.
Mr Porter says even when the slip site has stabilised enough to allow less restricted travel, a regular schedule of full road closures will be necessary in order to allow construction crews access to rebuild the road.
“We’ve lost both lanes of some parts of the highway at this site, and the road will need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. This is a narrow and confined site, and much of the work needed to rebuild the road won’t be able to be carried out while traffic is flowing through.
“We’ll need to balance the need to keep the road open as much as possible with the need to fully rebuild it as quickly as possible. It’s too early to say exactly what work will be required, but it’s a big job which is likely to take several months to complete.”
All but the largest of the slips have now been cleared or partially cleared, enabling crews and geotechnical specialists to access the worst affected site where the road has been washed away.
State Highway 60 is currently open on the Nelson side to the Marahau turn off (Riwaka/ Sandy Bay Rd), and on the Takaka side is closed from Upper Takaka except for local residents.
Pending the final checks on Sunday morning, from 9am to 5pm Sunday 25 February, the road will be open to traffic in one direction under escorted convoy.
Not all vehicles can go over the hill as part of these convoys:
The following vehicles are not permitted to travel on Sunday, given the road conditions:
Cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, caravans and trailers, truck and trailer units, overdimension (OD) vehicles, any vehicles needing a permit.
“We have to restrict the number and types of vehicles and only allow people through who have to travel because of the challenges of getting vehicles over the hill and the need to ensure people’s safety,” says Mr Porter. “As the day progresses, we may have to close the road. People will only be going over if it is safe.”
There will be waiting areas on both the Takaka and Riwaka sides of the hill. Crews will be checking the types of vehicles and people’s need to travel. Vehicles that are able to travel in a convoy will be directed to a waiting area and those unable to travel over the hill will be redirected to a safe location to turn around.
“We ask that people be patient as the wait could be several hours and if we are to provide travel on Sunday, please don’t take your frustrations out on the crews working on site.”