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Option 3 of the four shortlisted options has been selected as the new SH3 Manawatu Gorge replacement route

Preferred option for SH3 Manawatu Gorge replacement announced

The NZ Transport Agency has selected a preferred option for a new State Highway 3 route to replace the closed Manawatu Gorge, connecting the Manawatu, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and northern Wairarapa regions.

Announced in mid-March, the preferred option selected is Option 3 of the four shortlisted options, which runs from near the Te Apiti carpark western entry of the closed Manawatu Gorge, across the Ruahine Ranges north of the gorge, before emerging at Woodville.

NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) director regional relationships Emma Speight says after a thorough investigation and extensive consultation, Option 3 emerged as the safest and most resilient route that best balances the combined needs of the communities, businesses and road users who will utilise it.

“Everybody understands just how important a replacement for the gorge is. It will re-establish a key strategic transport and freight link that supports the needs of the people and economies of central New Zealand,” Ms Speight says.

Regional freight ring road

Alongside the replacement route, Ms Speight says the NZTA has committed to advancing investigations for a regional freight ring road, including a second road bridge across the Manawatu River, which stakeholders across the region see as a critical package to unlocking regional economic development opportunities.

The detailed business case process for the ring road will begin immediately, covering a 10-year programme of work, targeted for completion at the same time as the replacement route for the gorge.

Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon says that progressing a regional freight ring road in parallel with the Manawatu Gorge replacement route would be a significant step forward for the region.

“It would connect key freight hubs and bring significant improvements to freight and passenger vehicle movements through the central North Island hub of Manawatu, improving travel times and lowering costs. This better positions the region to attract investment in logistics, manufacturing and processing, which is critical for the region’s future growth and prosperity,” Mr Gordon says.

Second river crossing

The inclusion of a second bridge over the Manawatu River would assist in building the region’s resilience, provide a safer and more effective connection between some of the region’s key industrial areas, and remove heavy trucks from Palmerston North’s city centre.

Palmerston North City Council Mayor Grant Smith says engagement with regional stakeholders to reach a solution that achieves wider strategic objectives for both the region and the country as a whole is vital.

“To unlock future regional economic development, it is important that the new State Highway 3 link offers connectivity and alignment to a proposed regional freight ring road and a new bridge. We are pleased this package of work achieves this,” Mr Smith says. “It is a great example of central and local government collaboration to optimise public investment in infrastructure for the long term.”

Full support

The announcement of Option 3 as the preferred replacement has the full support of the Road Transport Forum and the road freight industry, says chief executive Ken Shirley. “We advocated strongly for Option 3 during the consultation process as it is the most suitable route for road freight, taking into account all the geographical challenges, proposed gradients and future resilience.

“We are pleased that local communities, businesses and road transport companies who depend on crossing the lower North Island now know what to expect in terms of the new route and the timeline for construction,” he adds.

“The NZTA must also be commended for the robust and inclusive consultation process they ran to get to this stage. A project such as this includes a huge variety of stakeholders, and it is a credit to them that they were able to run such a thorough process within the timeframe they did.”

Mr Shirley says it is also encouraging that the NZTA will continue investigations into the efficacy of the proposed regional freight ring road and new bridge across the Manawatu River. “Palmerston North is becoming an increasingly important freight hub of national significance and it is vital to support this with the appropriate infrastructure,” he notes.

“Key investments such as this mustn’t be put on the back-burner as they are critical to the lower North Island and New Zealand’s ongoing economic growth.”

Construction timeline

A detailed business case on the new SH3 route will be finalised over the next few weeks. The project team will then seek resource consents, with construction planned to begin in 2020, with the new road completed by 2024.

The new route will have an average incline gradient of 5.8%, with a maximum of 8%. In comparison, the current main alternative route, the Saddle Road, has a maximum gradient of 16%. Travel time is estimated to be 13 minutes for general traffic (compared to an average 16.7 minutes that it took to travel the Manawatu Gorge).

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