The Manawatu Gorge Road is iconic and a crucial link between the lower North Island and the East Coast on State Highway 3. But it has become increasingly unreliable and expensive to maintain. It is time for a permanent replacement that travellers and freight companies can rely on.
In the past decade, the Gorge Road has been closed 17 per cent of the time (equivalent to one day in six). Maintenance and clearing slips has cost $40m in that time. This equates to $14,000 per day the road is open, or 30 cents per vehicle/kilometre, compared to 2 cents per vehicle/kilometre for the state highway network as a whole.
With the latest slips and the threat of more to come, it is not clear if the Gorge Road could ever be reopened. If it was reopened the expense of keeping it open would only continue to mount.
While the Saddle Road is used by most traffic when the gorge is closed, it is not built to handle heavy vehicles, and its grade increases wear and fuel costs for trucks. The Saddle Road also sends high amounts of traffic through Ashhurst.
Although the need for a permanent replacement for the Gorge Road has been clear since the 2011/12 closure, the current Government has continued to refuse to commit to a solution. That leaves the local economy losing $62,000 a day every time the Gorge Road is closed – that has cost a total of $37m over the past decade.
• commit to funding a permanent, resilient replacement for the Manawatu Gorge Road. This is most likely to be the proposed Te Apiti route, subject to the final decision being made by NZTA
• make the process of building a new road as quick as possible to restore a quality link.
A new road is the only solution that will preserve the vital link from the lower North Island to the East Coast. It will be built as quickly as possible, using the powers available to the Government to speed up consenting and planning, and ensuring funding is immediately available.
The new road will be designed to handle the particularly high level of heavy vehicles that use the route, with grades that trucks can handle.
In 2012, the Te Apiti route was estimated to cost $120m and have a Benefit:Cost Ratio of 1.5, making it the most affordable option with the best return on investment. Options for a tunnel and bridging were assessed as much more expensive. Experts will determine which route is finally chosen.
This investment will be funded from unallocated capital set aside in the Budget.