After a year of dipping and winding over the coach road, motorists may soon be able to follow a more direct route, with at least one lane of the Manawatu Gorge expected to open by late this week.
New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) Palmerston North state highways manager David McGonigal said crews made steady progress last week, bringing the planned one lane re-opening forward from early September.
This would allow one-way traffic from Woodville to Ashhurst (travelling east to west) to flow between 8am and 6pm.
Two-way traffic, controlled by traffic lights, would be let through at night.
People travelling from Ashhurst to Woodville (west to east) would continue to use alternative routes.
Opening of the lane was weather-dependent, and an update would be issued once a time had been confirmed.
Mr McGonigal said a full re-opening was still weeks away.
"It will be hugely rewarding to have the bridge open to traffic. While it's a similar arrangement to what we had a couple of months ago, this will be on brand new, permanent infrastructure that will serve the gorge for years to come."
"Opening up one lane will save people money and fuel, and crucially, time."
The project had progressed ahead of the proposed timeframe - a credit to road crews who had worked hard to make it happen, Mr McGonigal said.
"Normally a project of this scale would take one or two years to plan, design and build, and the team have carried out a remarkable co-ordinated effort in getting so much done in so little time."
NZTA acknowledged the patience of communities such as Woodville and Ashhurst, which had been badly affected.
"A year is a long time to wait, and it's a long time to endure disruption on a daily basis," Mr McGonigal said.
"The community has shown extraordinary spirit throughout this difficult time."
Having one lane open would also relieve alternative routes, which had been lashed by bad weather and heavy traffic over winter.
"Mother Nature has kept us busy on the alternative routes, and we thank motorists for their ongoing care and patience in challenging conditions. Wet weather makes the road more vulnerable to damage and also makes it difficult to repair.
"As soon as the sun comes out, our contractors leap at the chance to patch up the road. This means that during drier weather, people will notice the Higgins crews out in force working hard to fill in the potholes and make the road safer."