The Parapara Road between Whanganui and Raetihi remains closed following a massive slip which took out a huge section of the road about 500m north of the Matahiwi Track.
At this stage the Ore Ore slip. as it's known, is about 400m long. However the ground is still unstable and moving, and the slip could end up extending for a kilometre or more.
This is a vital section of our State Highway network and we can't and mustn't underestimate the economic and social impact of the closure of this section of State Highway 4. It's a popular freight route for goods travelling to and from Whanganui. It also provides vital access for emergency services. The hardest hit by the closure is the Ruapehu region, which is already suffering the consequences of the significant reduction in traffic through its towns, and the subsequent loss of business.
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A couple of weeks ago I attended a public meeting in Raetihi with the NZ Transport Agency and the Ruapehu District Council, which was chaired by local Mayor Don Cameron. NZTA did an excellent job of outlining the issues and reassuring attendees they are continuing to monitor the State Highway 4 slip-site and remain focused on finding a safe solution for reinstating the road as soon as they can.
The Road Transport Association NZ was also represented at the meeting by their chairman Steve McDougall, as was McCarthy Transport, whose business has been adversely affected by the road closure.
The NZTA took on-board the constructive and practical feedback from industry and locals alike, including amongst other things an undertaking to work with the Ruapehu District Council to install new signage to remind travellers that the Raetihi Township is still very much open for business.
I believe it's clear the NZTA have learned a lot from their experience managing the closure of the Manawatu Gorge in April 2017, and the many and varied issues which arose subsequent to that event.
At the meeting they acknowledged there's no alternative at present. They also conceded that because of the scale and complexity of the slip, which is continuing to move, it'll take some time and effort to resolve the best course of action.
In the meantime the alternative Fields Track option is okay but there are challenges with the significant increase in traffic on this road and it's really only viable for light vehicles.
Of course none of this is particularly reassuring for those whose businesses and livelihoods are being severely affected. But the NZTA must be commended for their engagement with the Ruapehu and Whanganui communities and their genuine efforts to ease the concerns of residents.
One more thing… I was delighted to hear Whanganui was awarded the honour of New Zealand's Most Beautiful City at the 2019 Keep New Zealand Beautiful Awards – and thereby relegating Lower Hutt, my colleague Chris Bishop's home town, to second place.
He's not happy! It's great Whanganui was recognised for its street art festival, urban shared pathways and down town regeneration. It's certainly a city on the up with a growing population, plenty of opportunity and the mighty Whanganui River at its heart.