Three months after Cyclone Gabrielle, State Highway 2 will finally re-open between Napier and Wairoa this Sunday.
The drive, which usually takes around 90 minutes, has been taking over six hours thanks to the lengthy detours currently in place.
“The disconnection between those communities was huge,” said Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency regional manager of maintenance and operations Jaclyn Hankin.
“It’s not just the economical impact to the region, but it’s also the connection of people who have been displaced.”
While the regions will soon be reconnected, it won’t be business as usual for some time yet.
Andrew Shannon, regional manager for contractor Higgins, said the road will open with a temporary speed limit of 60km/h.
“There are a number of areas where the road will be under stop/go conditions, either with traffic lights or manual traffic control.”
Rebuilding a temporary Bailey bridge at Waikare Gorge was the biggest challenge for this repair job.
“At the time, we had over a metre of silt and debris across the full width of the road,” said Shannon.
The one-lane bridge’s maximum weight is 50 tonnes and it has a 10km/h speed limit with traffic lights on both sides.
Another area significantly damaged in the cyclone was Devil’s Elbow.
“Anyone who’s driven Devil’s Elbow knows how restricted, constrained and narrow it is,” said Hankin.
“There’s a very steep cliff face on one side and a very big drop down the other, so it has been completely undermined.
“We’ve done a lot of repair work to reinstate the stability of the slope and the road’s in a safe place now. We’ll have that open to two lanes on Saturday and Sunday.”
Travel times from Napier to Wairoa are expected to be at least two hours.
The road between Devil’s Elbow and Waikare Gorge will only open from 7am to 6pm.
“We will be doing a lot of work over the next few weeks to get it ready for nighttime travel, because we understand that the road is a lifeline and we do need to have it available as much as possible,” said Hankin.