The NZ Transport Agency will begin upgrades of the Saddle Road on Monday to improve traffic flow for the thousands of motorists using the road as a detour during the closure of the Manawatu Gorge.
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal says the NZTA will begin the installation of four proposed slow vehicle bays on Monday, which will help to improve traffic flows and ease motorists’ frustrations by providing more passing opportunities.
"It’s really important that the Saddle Road remains a free-flowing route as much as possible, and these slow vehicle bays will allow motorists to pass slower moving vehicles such as trucks to keep traffic moving.”
Mr McGonigal said that while visible signs of deterioration would be evident on the Saddle Road due to the tenfold increase in traffic, the NZTA would focus on running repairs to stay on top of critical damage and keep the road safe. Permanent repairs and fixing cosmetic damage would require major roadworks so would be held off until the gorge reopens to prevent disruption for traffic using the Saddle Road.
“Our road crews are on call 24/7, and are continuing to carry out repairs to the road at off-peak times to minimise delays. We appreciate the Saddle Road has taken a lot of punishment and has seen better days, and once the gorge reopens we’ll be able to make some more comprehensive and long-lasting repairs.”
The NZTA would also be proposing further upgrades to ensure the long-term viability of the Saddle Road and Pahiatua Track in the event of future gorge closures.
Meanwhile, heavy machinery operations at the gorge were suspended yesterday because of safety concerns about falling debris, but the NZTA is continuing to analyse the slip's movement and makeup, in order to refine its plan of attack.
Mr McGonigal says geological specialists are using laser scanning to map the slip site, with removal of the unstable mass above the present landslide area the most favourable option at this stage.
“In short, the big challenge isn’t the landslip that we can all see but rather how the slip material and adjacent section of the hillside will react as we remove the material."
“Before we can consider the hillside safe and secure, we need to pull down a lot of debris from above the slip site.”
The NZTA will release a further update next week.