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Protective fencing for Gorge slip site

Wanganui Regional Office Media Release

20 October 2004

Protective fencing for Gorge slip site

Fencing to protect motorists from falling rocks is currently being installed at the site of last week’s slip on State Highway 3 in the Manawatu Gorge. Transit regional manager Errol Christiansen said the wire mesh fences, attached to concrete barriers and about as high as a deer fence, would enable the road to be re-opened to two lanes at the site, about one kilometre from the Ashhurst end of the Gorge.

“The highway has been reduced to one lane at this location since the early hours of Monday morning because of a continuous stream of stones and rocks bouncing onto the road, a result of the heavy rain to hit the area in the past few days. There was no movement in the slip, it was just a case of loose material being washed off the face of the slip.

“Most of the stones were reasonably small but some were big enough to do a bit of damage if they hit a vehicle, so in the interests of safety, we had to limit the road to one lane to keep cars as far away from the cliff as possible.

“This type of fencing is used in other parts of the gorge and in the last few days in particular it has been very effective in stopping loose rock from falling onto the highway.”

He said Transit was mindful of the heavier-than-usual traffic flows likely in the gorge this week because of the Hawke’s Bay A & P show and public holiday weekend.

“Transit and our contractors will be working hard to ensure two lanes are available as soon as possible after the fencing is in place. We expect that we’ll have both lanes open by the end of this afternoon.” Mr Christiansen said it was normal for the first heavy rain after a slip to wash loose rock from the slip face, and the falling rocks were not an indication that the slip was unstable.

“We’ve been keeping a very close eye on the slip and we don’t anticipate it will move again. The heavy rain would have eventually washed away all the loose rock, but we wanted to speed the process and force the rock down as soon as possible to provide some certainty, so closed the gorge for six hours yesterday while a helicopter carrying a monsoon bucket was used to sluice the loose rock from the cliff face.

“It was a very successful operation, with 200-300 cubic metres of material removed. We’re certain this will significantly reduce the number of rocks and stones coming off the cliff face.” He thanked motorists for their patience while the work was being carried out.

“We realise that lane closures and speed limits while work is carried out don’t create an ideal situation for motorists. There’s no doubt it would be easier for our contractors to get the work done if there was no traffic to contend with.

But access through the gorge is of great economic and social importance to the Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay regions, so our priority continues to be opening the road as soon as it is safe to do so, even if lane closures or speed restrictions are required. We firmly believe that getting traffic moving through the gorge a little bit more slowly than usual is far better than not having the road open at all, as long as we can manage it safely.” And further south, State Highway 56 at Opiki re-opened to traffic this morning. The route was closed in the early hours of Tuesday morning because of flooding from the Manawatu River.

“Flood waters have receded and fortunately there wasn’t a great deal of mud and other debris left behind so the clean-up has been a relatively easy one,” Mr Christiansen said.

ENDS

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