Govt plans to rebuild SH1: Bridges

A truck drives over the fractured road caused by an earthquake south of the town of Ward. REUTERS...
The Transport Minister said, reconstructing the road artery could take ‘‘many months’’ but not years. Photo: Reuters

The ruined State Highway 1 along Kaikoura’s pulverised coast will be rebuilt.

A transport industry leader called for the  huge rockfalls that block the route to  be bulldozed into the sea.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges — who flew over the disaster zone yesterday — said reconstructing the road artery could take ‘‘many months’’ but not years.

It would ‘‘definitely’’ be closed for at least the next six months, he said yesterday.

‘‘I think on the northern side, we’re definitely talking more than six months.

‘‘I think there’s a need for some realism around that, and that’s even working very fast on things.’’

Mr Bridges  was adamant  the road would eventually reopen, albeit with the possibility of some route changes.

He hoped  slips south of Kaikoura were not as severe as those north of the tourist town.

The Government was ‘‘absolutely’’ committed to reopening the route, he said.

‘‘Clearly, in light of the earth quake we’d want to look at our options and examine them closely in terms of where that state highway is.

‘‘My view is that that is going to lead us back to the coastal route that it is currently on, because it is the most direct route and it has very significant tourism appeal.’’

Mr Bridges  said  roading was ‘‘top of mind’’ as there were reports of  potholes already emerging on the main alternative route between Christ church and Picton, via the Lewis Pass and Murchison.

Serious concerns also remained for public safety, as the alternative route was already taking four times as many heavy trucks as normal.

Police have put 10 extra high way patrol officers on the road. Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said  he hoped the Government would not be ‘‘sensitive’’ about State Highway 1 and simply bulldoze rubble into the sea.

‘‘What you’ve got there is mountains meeting the sea — that material wants to go into the sea. That’s gravity.

‘‘To try and truck it away ... would add to the cost and time massively.

‘‘They might need some special environmental powers.’’ 

Mr Bridges said it was too early to make that call, but the New Zealand  Transport Agency (NZTA) was  working on options to present to the Government.

‘‘And we don’t want to muck around on that, because we appreciate livelihoods  ...  are seriously affected.’’

Speaking at a Kaikoura community meeting yesterday, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said opening access to SH1 on the south side of the town would  happen ‘‘quite a way before we open up to the north’’.

He said restoring access to the town was obviously one of the big issues.

‘‘It’s being worked on as fast as possibly can be. We have got heavy machinery working on slips on the south side.

‘‘We’ll open up to the south side of SH1 quite a way before we open up to the north.’’

Mr Joyce was loudly applauded when he also announced that the Government’s initial support for quake-affected businesses would be extended to include large businesses.

Initially, the $7.5million package was only available to businesses with fewer than 20 employees in Kaikoura, Cheviot, Waiau, Rotherham, Mt Lyford and Ward.

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