1 Nov 2022

Anxiety for Marlborough residents as SH6 closes for emergency repairs

7:27 am on 1 November 2022
Rainy conditions along SH6 in the upper South Island on 18 August, 2022.

State Highway 6 was extensively damaged in the storm. Photo: Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency

The Rai Valley township will be a lot quieter from this morning as State Highway 6 linking it to Nelson closes for seven weeks for emergency flood repairs.

Those living in Kokorua Road between two of the largest slip sites had faced being completely cut off during the road works.

Rai Valley fire chief and Kokorua Rd resident Nigel Patterson said the Nelson City Council and Waka Kotahi had gone out of their way to ensure cut off residents had some access to their homes.

After consulting with residents and landowners, Waka Kotahi organised twelve daily escorted convoys through a forestry road on the Nelson side of the Whangamoa hills, connecting to the highway at Hira.

While that didn't suit everyone, Patterson said some access was better than nothing.

"It will make a difference one way for me, but unfortunately I do three days in Blenheim and two days in Nelson so unfortunately I'll have to drive right around to get to Blenheim so that doesn't suit me so well but it is what it is."

Other than the convoys, there will be no public access through the State Highway six between Hira and Ronga Road for anyone other than contractors and repair crews.

Waka Kotahi says it's due to the nature of the work required and the fact a number of work sites will take up the entire road width.

Motorists travelling between Nelson and Blenheim will have to take a detour along State Highway 63 via St Arnaud, which could add hours to the journey.

Patterson said some people were worried the closure would be extended beyond seven weeks, but they have been assured there will be some form of access by 18 December.

"There's still a bit of anxiety in the valley but we just have to deal with it, hopefully they get it done sooner than what they say."

The Originair flight service between Nelson and Blenheim during the closure which was going to be trialled for two weeks to gauge demand has been extended for the full seven-week closure.

Originair CEO Rob Inglis said ticket sales were strong, and there had been enough to ensure the route was economically viable.

A morning and evening return air service will run between Nelson and Blenheim with a flight time of 20 minutes.

Ticket costs are subsidised by the Mayoral Relief Fund and the waiver of landing fees at Nelson and Marlborough airports.

Nelson Mayor Nick Smith said the flight service made the best of a bad situation.

"The closure of State Highway 6 for seven weeks to enable major repairs after the devastating weather event in August affects thousands of travellers every day. The provision of this air service provides an option of a 20-minute flight instead of a 2 hour forty-minute drive.

"It is particularly important for minimising the disruption to important public services like health."

It's estimated around 4000 vehicles use that stretch of road every day, and more than 40 Te Whatu Ora Nelson Marlborough Health staff travel between Nelson and Blenheim each week to provide health services.

State Highway 6 between Hira and Ronga Rd closed at 6am on 2 November and is due to reopen on 18 December.

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