Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Main road from Picton to Christchurch out of action the next six months at least - Transport Minister

The earthquake-shattered main road linking Picton and Christchurch will "definitely" be closed for at least the next six months, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

The minister took a guided helicopter tour of State Highway 1 from Kaikoura to Cheviot in North Canterbury today.

Large landslides have washed across the road and swept away railway lines at several stages across the picturesque coastal route.

Contractors are using heavy machinery to clear the rubble and debris, while helicopters with monsoon buckets sluicing gouged-open hillsides. Cracks and crevasses in the road are being filled with shingle and dirt as a stop-gap measure.

While aftershocks remain a major concern, the possibility of heavy rainfall is also a huge concern to the ongoing repair work.

"We've got several major slips - all the size of the Manawatu Gorge slip [of 2011] or more - and plus we're dealing with seismic activity here while trying to put the road back together, so we're talking many months," Bridges told the Herald.

Contractors working today to clear a major landslide on State Highway 1 south of Kaikoura. Photo / Dr Jan Kupec, Aurecon
Contractors working today to clear a major landslide on State Highway 1 south of Kaikoura. Photo / Dr Jan Kupec, Aurecon

"I think on the northern side, we're definitely talking more than six months. I think there's a need for some realism around that, and that's even working very fast on things."
He added: "People want answers and they want them to be accurate."

The Transport Minister was, however, adamant that the road would eventually reopen, albeit with the possibility of some route changes.

Bridges hopes that the slips south of Kaikoura are not as severe as north of the tourist town.

Beach settlements south of Kaikoura, including Oaro and Goose Bay, are already getting services delivered by road through the Hundalee Hills.

Bridges hopes that more access to Kaikoura from the south will be opened up soon.
However, the immediate priority is getting the Inland Rd State Highway 70 from Waiau to Kaikoura opened up.

Army aid convoys have been making two trips along the route for several days now. However, it's still closed to all other traffic.

Bridges, along with Hurunui District Mayor Winton Dalley, this morning flew over the Inland Rd, now being called the Kaikoura Emergency Access Rd by Civil Defence.

Contractors are making headway through the various slips and landslides.

A cordon just north of Waiau was eased this afternoon to allow fed-up locals easier access to their rural properties and to give them more ease of movement.

Contractors working today to clear a major landslide on the Inland Rd to Kaikoura. Photo / Dr Jan Kupec, Aurecon
Contractors working today to clear a major landslide on the Inland Rd to Kaikoura. Photo / Dr Jan Kupec, Aurecon

A massive landslide at Rotherham is being quickly cleared and Dalley hopes the direct road to Waiau will be open within days.

The worst area on the Inland Rd now lies just north of Mt Lyford.

Contractors are working around the clock to open the route to get urgent supplies to Kaikoura, and allow better access for residents.

"To see that it's being worked on and there is progress is good," Bridges said.

After the badly-damaged stretch north of Waiau and Lyford, where along with slips, the road was cracked and sheared open in the violent magnitude-7.8 tremor, there are long stretches were, as Bridges says, that "you wouldn't have a sense that there's been earthquakes".

Bridges was also taken over State Highway 7 which has seen traffic increase at least four-fold since last Monday's natural disaster.

Large trucks including several milk tankers were travelling the road past the Hanmer Springs turn-off today.

Traffic was heavy and Dalley feared what it will look like when summer kicks in and holidaymakers and more tourists take to the popular road.

But for Bridges, the aerial survey was useful in helping him consider the future decisions will be have to be made by Cabinet, the Ministry of Transport, NZTA, and KiwiRail.

"There's nothing like actually coming and seeing it with your own eyes," he said.

Meeting locals in Amberley and Cheviot, as well as contractors as the Waiau cordon, helped give him a "sense of the frustration" that they're experiencing with the closures and cordons.

- NZ Herald

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