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The NZ Transport Agency has announced that the Gorge will partially reopen just in time for spring, with motorists set to be waved through tomorrow evening (Wednesday 29 August 2012).
The road will be open for traffic heading from Woodville 24 hours a day, and open to people travelling in both directions at night time, from 6pm to 8am. At all other times, drivers heading from the Ashhurst end will need to continue using the alternative routes. Motorists are asked to observe road signage at all times.
"It'll be the same rules as before - open 24/7 from the Woodville end, and two way operation at night time."
Mr McGonigal stressed that the section of highway through the gorge remains a work site, and that the road was subject to closures or delays at short notice.
"We ask people to remember that as well as being an operational road, it's also a busy building site, and we want to look after our contractors. We urge drivers to strictly observe the speed restrictions and watch out for crew members at all times."
Mr McGonigal says the full reopening of the gorge to two lanes was now just a few weeks away.
"It's not a complete solution quite yet, and we're keeping celebrations on ice until we've got the road fully reopened. However, it will enable about two thirds of vehicles using the alternative routes to return to the gorge, which will make a real difference to people's journeys."
"We recognise that this closure has affected lives and livelihoods, and every day matters. It's been a long and frustrating wait, but what the crews have accomplished in this time has been simply groundbreaking."
Mr McGonigal applauded the various crews that had toiled away at the slip site over the last year.
"This slip is an unprecedented event, not only for the region but also for this country. It's been a real test of character for everyone who has teamed up to wrest control back from Mother Nature.
"The crews have displayed true grit and unwavering dedication and professionalism. It's their hard work that's gotten us this far.
"Clearing the slip, stabilising the slope, and rebuilding this system of highway structures has been an extremely difficult and complex operation in often hostile conditions. The troops have risen to the challenge admirably."
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA are particularly grateful to the people of Ashhurst and Woodville for their support and perseverance during what has been a testing and disruptive year.
"The people of Ashhurst and Woodville have put up with a lot of disruption, and we'd like to acknowledge the generous spirit they've displayed throughout this difficult time."
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA are aware of concerns about the recent spate of crashes on the Saddle Road, and he says the reopening of the gorge will help to relieve pressure on the road and improve safety. He says crews are continuing to patrol the alternative routes and make repairs whenever weather permitted. He asks that motorists travelling from Ashhurst remember that even with the Gorge reopened, it remains a two way road and to remain watchful for traffic coming in the opposite direction.
For more information about the Manawatu Gorge, people can visit www.nzta.govt.nz/manawatu-gorge, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.