27 Feb 2023

Main highway repairs: Waka Kotahi says it could be months before some reopen

From Checkpoint, 6:10 pm on 27 February 2023

It will be months if not years of patch ups or complete rebuilds before the country's roading network is back on its feet.

State Highway 1 through the Brynderwyns is cut off. An alternative route via Mangawhai has been nailed too.  On State Highway 35, Tokomaru Bay is still cut off by road. And State Highway 25A - a vital route into the Coromandel - will be out of action for a year.

Waka Kotahi national emergency response team spokesperson Mark Owen told Checkpoint they had enough resources available for repairs for now, but the main issue had been access and ground stability. 

"We've certainly got enough resources for now, but given the widespread area, the amount of damage that needs to be fixed up, some of these that have been really hit, for example between Napier and Wairoa, significant damage there, so it's going to take some time before we can restore it back to a key lifeline link."

State Highway 1 through Brynderwyns 

Owen said they had seen further damage on the roads over weekend in Northland due to significant rainfall, particularly around Mangawhai area.

Repairs on SH1 through Brynderwyns will depend how stable the ground is and weather. 

"We need to make sure it has stopped moving and that it's safe," Owen said. 

"Crews will be working hard with advice from geotechnical engineers and as soon as they say it's safe, we'll try and get one lane open but it really just depends on the ground being a bit more stable than it is at the moment."

Checkpoint reporter Louise Ternouth in Whangārei said builders in Warkworth say they have had to add two hours to their journey each day to get to the region, and it was similar story for those needing to travel to Auckland for medical treatments.

Owen said there was no timeline yet on when that section of SH1 would reopen. 

"It's going to take a few days before they can stabilise [the land] and do the work required."

Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo estimated the cost of repairs for the roads would be well over $129 million, especially with slips near Waipu Cove. 

He was concerned about truck drivers who relied on SH1 daily because the delays were having a severe impact, he said.

"In simple terms, when we start talking about costs and the costs for trucks and all those sorts of things, it doesn't just deal with mileage or driver hours, but fuel and maintenance," Cocurullo said.

"For the drivers to use the Paparoa-Oakleigh Road, which is the road that a lot of trucks have been using, that costs - on top of using the Brynderwyns - $400 extra per travel, so that $400 has got to go somewhere, so either it has to be passed on to the shops or it's got to be swallowed by the truck drivers," he said.

"On top of that, there's time requirements so the drivers have got certain times that they've got to be able to do the trips in and if they go over their time, they get penalised.  

"It's affecting tourism, it's affecting the businesses, the supermarkets, it's affecting everybody, so it's not just about one business, it's everybody."

Cocurullo said he was in discussions with Waka Kotahi on the possibility of opening a single lane through the Brynderwyns some time later this week, but that was yet to be confirmed.

The transport agency's advice has been for light vehicles to detour via SH12 through Paparoa-Oakleigh Road, band heavier vehicles have been asked to go through SH12 and SH14 through Dargaville.

But there have been reports trucks were using the Paparoa-Oakleigh route because it was quicker. 

Waka Kotahi said it was a council road, which had a speed limit, but was built only for light vehicles.

East Coast - State Highway 35

On the East Coast, Owen said the closure on State Highway 35 was extended up to Tikitiki because recent heavy rain had brought down debris, silt and caused drain blockages.

"It's just deemed too dangerous at the moment. We're hoping it'll clear once the rain stops and then we're back down to our more permanent closure between Te Puia and Tolaga."

It would take time to prep for the installation of a Bailey bridge to reconnect the highway, Owen said.

"It's quite likely we've got to put a pier down into the river so we can suspend the Bailey bridge and then they can launch it," he said.

"It's going to be a few weeks in terms of the amount of work that has to happen to secure that route."

Once again, it could be months before it fully reopens, depending on ground conditions, access and weather.

State Highway 5, Taupō to Hawke's Bay 

"We had the approach to one of the bridges washed out so [crews are] working to restore that, lots of drop outs and damage on that highway," Owen said.

"So we're hoping to have an update later this week and what we're hoping to do is get one lane open for essential freight and then hopefully can secure freight getting between Napier and Taupō and then as more work is done to make that road safe, then we'll be looking at opening it to the public later down the track," he said.

"We just want to flag even when it does open, it will still have a lot of one-lane sections, temporary speed limits, due to the devastation and damage that's happened along that corridor."