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The road through the Manawatu Gorge is one of the most difficult in New Zealand to maintain, being prone to rockfalls and landslides

Editorial – August / September 2017

News that the Manawatu Gorge may be permanently closed is a major setback for logistics and freight transport operators in the lower North Island.

State Highway 3 through the gorge is the main artery for the flow of imports and exports between Hawke’s Bay and the Manawatu. The city of Palmerston North – an important logistics hub for the lower and central North Island – is situated just 10 km from its western end.

It is one of the most difficult roads in New Zealand to maintain, being prone to rockfalls and landslides, with the narrow road cut into the southern side of the gorge above the Manawatu River. It’s a hair-raising ride in a small car, with trucks passing mere centimetres away.

It’s been closed on several occasions, most notably in August 2011 when a large slip closed the road for over a year. Traffic was forced to detour via alternative routes, adding at least 15 minutes to the journey each way. 

The road was closed again in April this year following more rockfalls, and then last month, with the immediate risk of another large slip coming down, the NZ Transport Agency pulled all contractors from their work sites for safety reasons, with regional transport systems manager Ross I’Anson saying geotechnical assessments have confirmed that the entire hillside is moving.

It’s an unsatisfactory situation, with Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith quoted as saying the city may be losing $60,000 a day in lost business and others estimating the figure may be double this. The alternatives – ranging from upgrading the Saddle Road route to building a tunnel – come with a hefty price tag. 

One thing that everyone agrees on is that a long-term solution needs to be found. Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley says: “It is vital that we find an enduring solution that can be relied on and will not require the almost constant remedial work the gorge has required in recent times.” 

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor


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