New road planned in central North Island

The New Zealand Transport Authority announced the decision on a new road to replace the Manawatu Gorge Rd. The old road through the Manawatu Gorge followed the Manawatu River, linking Palmerston North with Hawkes Bay on the East Coast of the North Island. It was always a narrow, winding road with steep cliffs on one side and the river a long way down below. Unfortunately, heavy rain often brought slips down onto the road, closing it until heavy machinery could remove the rocks and earth which had fallen. In April last year, the slips were so bad that the road has been permanently closed. Traffic has been using the Saddle Road or the Paihiatua Track in the meantime, neither of them a satisfactory alternative for a main highway.

Now a decision has been made about a permanent replacement. It will be south of the Saddle Road. It will be 12.4km long, with a maximum gradient of 8%, and should be a safer road as it will not be on a fault line. Land will need to be taken from six farms which will upset the farmers although they will receive compensation. Unfortunately, the new road will not be ready before 2024. It will take 2 years for the design work, then four years for construction. The cost could be up to $560m.

New Zealand’s geology makes it difficult to build safe roads and our small population makes it difficult to find the money to build them. The Kaikoura road was closed for a year after the earthquake in November 2016 and it closes from time to time whenever heavy rain causes slips. The Takaka Hill road closed last month for several days; people in Golden Bay could not get out and food supplies could not get in, except by boat. Other West Coast roads have been closed at times.

Listen to February 21st 2018


• a river gorge – like a canyon, where the river becomes narrow at the bottom of a deep valley
• slips (on a road) – rocks and earth fall down a steep cliff onto the road
• gradient – slope
• fault line – earthquake fault
• upset (v) – to be very unhappy about something
• compensation – money in exchange for their land

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