Repairs to State Highway 1 at Mangamuka will keep the main road north closed until August next year, sparking a frustrated outburst from a NZ Transport Agency board member who lives in the region.
The main highway south of Kaitāia collapsed under torrential rain in July and repairs mean SH1 is shut at the Mangamuka Gorge, with motorists wanting to travel north having to detour along SH10, adding at least 30 minutes to their journeys.
The situation has been labelled "pathetic and disgraceful" by NZTA board member Ken Rintoul, who lives in Okaikau and runs a civil construction company that does similar types of roading repairs.
"It's only 7000 cubes and it's pathetic. The Auckland Harbour Bridge didn't take this long to get opened again."
Rintoul said 7000cu m was about two days' work for a large earth-moving machine.
"It should have been closed for no more than a week max."
He said his Northland civil construction company, Rintoul Civil, worked on a similar job stabilising a land slip that reduced SH1 traffic over the Brynderwyns to one lane for 10 days in 2000.
"I did a job exactly the same on the Brynderwyns that never got closed. It's pathetic we've got to wait a year for SH1 which is costing about $1m a day for people having to go round SH10."
Far North mayor John Carter said the prolonged closure was "a worry", "a challenge" and "a problem".
"To be fair to NZTA, they're working as hard as they can to address it. But on the downside, it's affecting businesses, not just in Kaitāia, but the Far North, particularly those that transport goods to Auckland and logging trucks.
"That's also putting pressure on local roads, there are logging trucks on local roads that normally don't use them, that's also causing disruption and traffic safety and damage to the roads."
Carter said the council was working with NZTA to see what can be done to speed things up.
"We'd love them to pour more resources in, we'd love to get it fixed quicker, but they're pulling out all the stops to try and get it fixed as quickly as they can."
Hazely Windelborn, who co-owns Pine Tree Marketing and Harvesting, said the state highway closure was hitting his forestry business hard.
He has a crew in the nearby Otangaroa Forest but said he would soon pull them out because of the additional costs, which have so far come to more than $30,000.
He's clocked up an extra $21,000 on his transport bill, with trucking services charging an extra $6 a tonne to get the loads to Juken Mill in Kaitāia.
Windelborn also has to pay his workers the extra hour they have to travel to and from work each day, which added a further $10,000, he said.
"It's a shambles. We're pulling our crew out of there. It's just not working," he said.
"The worst thing is we've got other wood to harvest sitting on the north side of Mangamuka Gorge but we can't do that work now because the added cost to the farmer makes it unviable to harvest the trees."
The Mangamuka Gorge was the biggest road casualty of the July 17 and 18 storm, which dumped 220mm of rain on the region in a few hours.
NZTA workers are working double shifts to repair a road which lost 7000cu m of material back to the centreline.
The highway will open to one lane for light vehicles only over three weeks during the Christmas and New Year period, using stop-go traffic management.
On January 11 it will be shut again for two-lane reconstruction and realignment, opening occasionally to traffic at times "where possible".
When the project is finished - expected to be mid-2021, weather permitting - it will have taken more than a year to fix the major Northland route.
Rosemary Wright runs a plant nursery with her husband and son from their property, 700m from Victoria Valley Rd, the northernmost road closure.
She said the closure added 45 minutes each way for deliveries as it meant driving north to Kaitāia before heading back along SH10.
"It puts another hour-and-a-half on the journey which makes it tough, especially if we're going to Auckland and back."
Kaitaia Business Association chairwoman Andrea Panther said the closure is "massively affecting heaps of people and costing businesses thousands [of dollars]".
The business association has received 18 written complaints along with "lots of word of mouth" feedback, she said.
The main issues are the extra time and costs associated with deliveries, along with increased large traffic on SH10.
One petrol station at the south end of Kaitāia is down 90,000 litres of petrol sales plus shop sales. Its managers are now considering cutting staff numbers because of the lack of customers.
"Businesses in the south end of town are suffering," Panther said. "There's time and money with extra mileage transporting things.
"If we lived in Auckland this would be fixed in a few days, but because we live up here we get left. We feel like we're the poor cousins."
Panther said she feels sorry for contractors who are working hard to get the work done.
"They're trying their hardest, they realise it's detrimental to us but there's nothing they can do. It's very frustrating. The roll-on affect is huge.
"It's affected everyone, from businesses through to community members."
Last week Northland regional councillor and former firefighter Colin "Toss" Kitchen told the Northern Advocate he was concerned about risky driver behaviour and "stupid overtaking" on the SH10 detour.
Waka Kotahi NZTA senior system manager Wayne Oldfield said the instability of the area has caused the design team to work cautiously in developing their stage 2 design and build methodology.
"The earth beneath the road is brittle and unstable and there is an old slip above the road that could reactivate," he said.
"Safety is our priority and during the wet winter months there were periods when it hasn't been safe to work at the slip site."
Oldfield said the agency acknowledges the impact of the road closure on local communities and the local economy. "We're working as quickly as possible in difficult conditions to reopen the road."
Transport Minister Michael Wood said "having a major road closed for a long period of time is tough for the community that relies on it".
Wood said the Government was making "record investments" into road maintenance.
"NZTA is aiming to renew 110 lane kilometres of state highway in Northland this summer," he said. NZTA later clarified a "lane kilometre" meant only one side of the road, reducing repairs to 55km if both sides were done.
Wood had some advice for those caught up in the roading chaos: "Given more heavy vehicles are using SH10, my message to people travelling is to slow down and drive to the conditions."