News that the Manawatu Gorge will be partially re-opened by the end of this month is fantastic, Tararua mayor Roly Ellis says.
"It's good news for our community and you've got to hand it to the crews working in there, they've really stuck at it, despite the weather," he said. "Just lately motorists haven't been complaining as much about the closure - they seem to have become more amenable. But the state of the Saddle Rd has really been causing a lot of problems. It's been hammered, especially over the winter."
NZTA Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal said crews had set themselves a new target of having the Manawatu Gorge open by the end of August, albeit one way only, weather permitting - 12 months after a massive slip closed it.
"We're now getting closer by the day and if Mother Nature comes to the party we're confident we'll be waving vehicles through earlier than we expected," he said.
"While work will continue on site for a while, our top focus right now is getting ready to have one lane available for the public to use within two weeks.
"We'll then finish the job over September and hopefully have the road fully re-opened to two lanes around late September."
Mr McGonigal said teams had made great progress on the retaining wall and bridge and had also been busy on "rock anchoring" (the insertion of steel rods into the rock) to secure the slope. Work had also continued on laying down the new driving surface and installing rockfall netting.
And while work continues on the gorge, Mr McGonigal said NZTA crews have been busy on the Saddle Rd repairing damage.
"There's been weeks of lousy weather and we share the frustrations of motorists," he said.
"Constant rain is a headache for everyone because we have to wait for the weather to ease before we can carry out repairs on the Saddle. The team have been working hard to stay on top of things, on what we recognise is a challenging road."
Meanwhile, NZTA and the Tararua District Council's roading staff are working on plans for an upgrade of the Saddle Rd, once the Manawatu Gorge is open, Mr Ellis said.
"We need to find out what that rebuild is going to cost and what the NZTA have planned," he said.
Previous estimates to improve the Saddle came in at $4.5 million but Tararua District Council chief executive Blair King believes that money will only finance part of the work.
"The work needed on the Saddle Rd is becoming more and more of a rebuild instead of just an overlay and repair. The $4.5 million allocated out of the regional roading budget will only get to the summit. It will not cover the entire road. We are woefully short," he said.
For more information about the Manawatu Gorge, people can visit www.nzta.govt.nz/manawatu-gorge, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.