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More relief is at hand for Manawatu motorists. The NZ Transport Agency is advising motorists that State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge is opening up to all traffic at all times, although some onsite restrictions will remain.
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal says two lanes of traffic will be open from 6pm Wednesday 19 September 2012 - operating in both directions, 24/7 - for the first time since the first big slip came down in August last year. One lane 'stop/go' controlled sections will still exist at two points, but restrictions have been lifted on vehicles travelling east (from Ashhurst) during the day.
The gorge highway has been partially open under one lane operation since late August.
"This is the first time since the gorge closed last year that we've been able to get two lanes of traffic through the slip site. While it's not two lanes the whole way through, it's a huge leap forward and a sign that the end is near. It's been achieved ahead of schedule by a very dedicated crew, and they've earned a long holiday when all this is over," says Mr McGonigal.
He says that while the gorge can now accommodate all the traffic that has previously been diverted onto the alternative routes, there may be minor closures in coming weeks to enable further work to be completed.
"Having two lanes up and running means that everyone who has been patiently winding their way through the alternative routes can now return to the Manawatu Gorge, and save themselves time, petrol and peace of mind while they're at it."
This will also bring a bit more serenity to the residents of Ashhurst during the day, while also directing more motorists through Woodville's newly remodelled business district."
Mr McGonigal urges motorists to keep their eyes peeled for signs, as restrictions or closures could still happen at short notice depending on the work required onsite and weather conditions.
Mr McGonigal says the NZTA are continuing the final stages of work on the new section of highway through the gorge, such as rockfall netting to protect motorists from debris spills. He says the road remains a construction site, and drivers are required to stick to the 30km/h speed restrictions to keep workers and other motorists safe.
Mr McGonigal says there are two small sections which are still down to one lane - at the Woodville end of the slip where crews are still at work, and also about 500m further towards Woodville, following damage caused by an isolated rock spill.
"Courtesy of Murphy's Law, we've had an isolated rock spill a few hundred metres down the road, just as we were getting ready to open the gorge to two lanes. We've ensured that the hillside is secure, but we'll need to fix the damage which may mean briefly shutting the highway at a later date."
Mr McGonigal says that contractors will continue to patrol the alternative routes to carry out repairs and maintenance work.
For more information about the Manawatu Gorge, people can visit www.nzta.govt.nz/manawatu-gorge, or email email@example.com.