Lack of progress on road repairs frustrates

By john.maslin@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

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WORRYING WAIT: McCarthy Transport chief executive Steve McDougall says the industry is worried that 10 months after the June storm several sections of State Highway 4 north of Whanganui are still restricted to one lane.PHOTOS/FILE
WORRYING WAIT: McCarthy Transport chief executive Steve McDougall says the industry is worried that 10 months after the June storm several sections of State Highway 4 north of Whanganui are still restricted to one lane.PHOTOS/FILE

Transport operators have rounded on the New Zealand Transport Agency, frustrated with a lack of progress fixing two state highways out of Whanganui almost a year after they were damaged by record rainfalls.

NZTA said earlier this month that the scale and complexity of some of the damage would take up to two years to complete.

But Tom Cloke, road transport association area manager, said there had been considerable frustration at a regional meeting of operators in Palmerston North this week at the "unbelievable delays" in getting repairs completed.

Of particular concern were a number of drop-outs on State Highway 4 between Whanganui and Raetihi and a drop-out on State Highway 3 south of Hawera.

"It's almost 12 months since the June storms hammered Whanganui and South Taranaki but repairs to these two major routes are at a virtual standstill," Mr Cloke told the Chronicle.

He said some of those at the meeting accused the NZTA of "sitting on its hands".

"They're procrastinating and our members are getting bloody frustrated."

He said both highways were vital routes in and out of the region. Every time snow closed State Highway 1 (the Desert Rd), trucks used SH4 and SH3 as alternative routes.

Mr Cloke said when NZTA had its office in Whanganui there were never any such problems.

"They had staff in the field who were familiar with the area and understood what needed to be done."

Mr Cloke said it was even more frustrating because the region had enjoyed one of its best summers in a long time but still the roads are nowhere near up to standard.

"Winter's nearly here and we know that means work will be affected by the weather.

"Our real worry is that State Highway 4 is vulnerable already. It always has been. But if there's another weather event like last June we'd be lucky to hold that road in place at all.

"Sure, the Parapara is open, but traffic is restricted where washouts have occurred. It's the incessant stops and starts which are affecting productivity and costs."

Steve McDougall, chief executive for McCarthy Transport in Whanganui, said the longer the repairs took the more it was costing his company.

McCarthy trucks use the road every day, especially logging trucks.

"We're getting figures together now on just how much this is costing us in general wear and tear and fuel," Mr McDougall said.

"It's the constant stopping and starting on the Parapara that's the problem. While it's probably adding about 15 minutes to each trip, those delays are costing us, and it's a significant cost.

"We know what happens to the Parapara in winter but the problem is the damage that's already been done is only going to get worse," Mr McDougall said.

"As of today, there's still not one machine working on that highway."

Mr McDougall lives in Ohakune and drives that road several times a week. He said this summer traffic volumes had increased markedly, especially with tourists on the road.

"I've had a number of near misses with people who have ignored the temporary traffic lights or give way signs along the Parapara. People unfamiliar with the road are just not driving to the conditions."

Earlier this month NZTA said efforts were being made to speed up repairs but said the work may take two years.

Record-setting rainfall in June caused about $20 million worth of damage along the length of the highway, and closed the route for about a month to all but essential traffic.

Neil Walker, NZTA regional highways manager, said 40 separate sites along the highway needed repairs.

"We've repaired the majority of the sites but the scale and complexity of the remaining sites meant it has taken longer to investigate options for repairs and costs."

The remaining sites had all been made stable to ensure the safety of road users.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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