It's been shut 22 times in the last five years, that's a total of 338 days. Most recently it closed in April after a massive slip took out the road. Now, the Manawatu Gorge may never reopen.

"The hill up here but other parts as well is continuing to move. Not only is it moving, but the pace at which it is moving has significantly picked up," says Transport Minister Simon Bridges.

In fact, the hillside above the roadworks is so unstable, NZTA has shut down all work until until the engineers can fix the new hazard. It's a huge new undertaking.

"We know the movement has been very slow over that period of time till the last month. We have had geotechnical engineers for the last few months crawl right across these hillsides here above these slips to make sure we know what is going on above them," NZTA Investment and Planning manager says Ross I'Anson.

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That means bad news for local businesses and residents.

"I can't tell you today or give you any certainty of when this road will reopen but we will be working very hard as quickly as we can to understand that," says Mr Bridges.

While engineers assess the severity of the unstable hillside, other options are becoming more likely. NZTA will pay for upgrades to Saddle Road which struggles to handle the regular Gorge traffic.

But in the long term, NZTA is considering a completely new route including a tunnel or bypass.

"There is a sense of urgency now, so i have confidence that we will have another plan or an alternative route sorted i would hope within the next three to four months," says Grant Smith, Palmerston North Mayor.

Whatever option is finally given the go ahead, it will significantly add to the cost and time for the many people who use this important state highway.

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