Has the Forgotten World Highway actually been forgotten?
Stratford mayor Neil Volzke says it would seem as if it has been, when it comes to the time taken by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to repair significant slips on the SH43, commonly known as the Forgotten World Highway.
Neil says he is "unimpressed" that nearly 12 months on from the June 20 floods, which caused widespread damage to roads in the district, SH43 still has a significant number of under slips to be repaired.
Neil raised his concern at the Regional Land Transport Committee meeting, held at Taranaki Regional Council in Stratford last Wednesday, which was attended by representatives of NZTA who are responsible for maintaining SH43.
Some of the slips are a real safety concern and there is a serious risk of someone going over the edge of the road.
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Neil says while he was pleased to have the opportunity to talk to NZTA, "the danger hasn't gone away. With winter now upon us, we risk heavy rains causing further slips making the road even more dangerous. Slips are already encroaching into the traffic lane and without immediate action this is going to get worse".
Ross I'Anson, acting highways manager for NZTA says SH43 "has certainly not been forgotten". All sites impacted by the June flooding last year have been made stable.
"There were 18 emergency works sites requiring repair across the Taranaki region and we have needed to work through the issues and options for each of the sites. To date we have managed to complete the work on five sites, including one site on State Highway 43. These five sites represent 28 per cent of the total work. The sites on State Highway 43 that still require repair are large and complex and we need to ensure we develop the right long-term solutions. All of the remaining 11 sites on State Highway 43 will be completed over the next summer period." Each site has required detailed geotechnical investigation work before work can begin.
Neil says he supports the views of locals who use the road. "From their perspective it seems the agency has been sitting on its hands for the last 12 months, they have seen no visible sign of any work being done."
He says it seems particularly ironic that local councils were being penalised by reduction of funding subsidies if work required on council-owned roads was not completed within a 12-month period yet "the NZTA owned highway will only have work started 13 months after the flood event".
He says he is pleased to hear there is a plan to start the repairs soon.
"But I hope NZTA take on board our concerns, these slips need to be fixed and soon".
Ross says all sites are safe for use while they are awaiting repairs.
"The remaining sites have all been made stable to ensure the safety of road users while this investigative work has been undertaken. We need to ensure that the solutions for repair are the right ones for the long term."
The slips on SH43 weren't the only concern Neil raised. He also questioned the quality of the maintenance work undertaken on a 12-kilometre unsealed portion of the highway east of Whangamomona.
"Ultimately the best way to fix the ongoing problem would be to seal this road. It has been estimated to cost $9 million to do so. That's not a huge amount of money in roading terms."
Speaking after the meeting, Neil says he remains frustrated by the lack of action to date.
"It is great to hear NZTA will be starting work soon, but residents have waited over a year to have the highway fixed. The highway is used by locals and tourists and it is sheer good luck we haven't had a serious accident where someone has ended up off the road as a result of the slips.
"I am pleased I was able to raise the concerns of our residents with NZTA and look forward to seeing some actual work start on the highway."