The Saddle Rd, which is acting as a state highway with the Manawatū Gorge route closed, will now have a 60km/h speed limit imposed from Ashhurst to the Mangaatua Stream on the Woodville side.

The NZ Transport Agency has set new permanent speed limits for Saddle Road/Oxford Rd/Woodlands Rd and State Highway 3, one of the main bypass routes for the closed State Highway 3 Manawatū Gorge.

Due to the heavy increase in traffic on the route following the closure of the gorge and the subsequent rise in crashes, emergency speed limits were put in place in January 2018.

Those speed limits expired last week, requiring permanent speed limits to be set. Now the permanent speed limits in place are 80km/h for State Highway 3 from Woodville to Woodlands Rd, Woodlands and Oxford Roads and Saddle Rd from Hope Rd to Mangaatua Stream and 60km/h on the Saddle Rd.


"A consistent 60 kilometres per hour speed limit will reduce driver mistakes and their consequences on the Saddle Rd hill," NZTA director of safety and environment Harry Wilson said.

"No crash resulting in death or serious injury is acceptable, so it's important we take every opportunity to address the risk. Fewer crashes will also mean fewer closures, which will increase the reliability of this important route."

Since the closure of the gorge in April 2017, traffic volumes on Saddle Rd have increased from 150 to 5100 vehicles a day. Crashes have increased by 88 per cent, including one fatal and two serious crashes.

"The increase in traffic and crashes, along with the narrow and windy nature of the road, means 60km/h is the only safe and appropriate speed for Saddle Rd. This is in line with the speeds people currently travel along the road," Wilson said.

"These permanent speed limits will only increase travel times by approximately 51 seconds across the 16km route, but it will help make sure people get where they are going safely."

The setting of the permanent speed limits follows engagement with the Police, AA and the Road Transport Forum, and consultation with the public, with the public asking NZTA to consider more and longer passing lanes and slow vehicle bays along the saddle, with improved signage and more safety improvements.

But Tararua District councillor Alison Franklin isn't convinced the 60km/h limit is necessary.

"This is a ridiculous proposal when you consider that the Remutaka Hill road is 100km/h all the way," she posted on Facebook.

"This district is struggling enough with the closure of the Gorge without NZTA making it even less attractive for motorists to use this route."

However, Dannevirke's Jared Mulinder agrees with the 60km/h speed limit.

"If it's a known 60km/h road then people won't get impatient behind those doing that - which is the speed for most of the journey currently anyway. Motorists thinking they can be going 80km/h just causes frustration and rash passing manoeuvres," he said.

The proposed new route across the Ruahine Ranges is progressing, with construction expected to get under way in 2020 and be completed in 2024.

"Because the replacement route will not be built for five years, we need to make this bypass route safer now. The lower permanent speed limits we have set is one way we can do that," Wilson said.