Interislander traffic pours over alpine passes

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files

Traffic from the Interislander ferry is now pouring through Murchison, and over both the Lewis and Arthur's alpine passes, with trucks rumbling through day and night.

The Greymouth Star reported that police had stepped up patrols through the area due to a ``massive increase'' in traffic, and at Murchison, Mick Hopkinson said they were now getting all the ferry traffic.

State highway 1, from Picton to Christchurch, is impassable due to numerous landslides along the Kaikoura coast, and may be out of action for months. Prime Minister John Key yesterday described the route as ''really stuffed''.

All ferry traffic - trucks, tourists and domestic traffic - is now being redirected down the Wairau Valley to Murchison, through State highway 65 to Springs Junction and over the Lewis Pass to Canterbury.

Mr Hopkinson said trucks had been parked up in Murchison streets the past few nights.

``There's a lot more traffic noise, and a lot more traffic. They come off the ferry 150 at a time, and spread out. In two or three hours they come whizzing through.''

Some trucks were staying overnight because of their schedules, he said.

``We are starting to see little pods of trucks parked in laybys.''

The Murchison information centre had also experienced the explosion in traffic volumes.

Robert King-Tenison said the volume of trucks was ``really noticeable when you have one road through a small town''.

``It's constant.''

They were also seeing a lot of tourists who had intended travelling the Kaikoura route. The information centre was pushing them on to the West Coast, from Karamea right down to the glaciers.

If State highway 1 was not reopened for the peak of the tourist season in January and February, it was ``going to be completely whacky''.

Tasman district councillor for Murchison, Stuart Bryant, said the traffic increases were already causing a few problems.

Engine braking signs had been erected at St Arnaud for trucks coming from the north and heading downhill into the township.

People coming to relax there for the weekend or a holiday did not want to hear truck airbrakes all night, he said.

Businesses were also struggling to find enough staff to cope, and in turn accommodate those extra staff members.

They also had to find places for all the trucks to park, Cr Bryant said.

At the Springs Junction Service Centre, Steve Templeton said the traffic flows since Monday had been ``amazing''.

It was a mix of trucks, tourists and domestic vehicles.

``Trucks seem to be stopping and filling up . . . it just got busy and stayed busy.''

With some restrictions on the Lewis Pass, Arthur's Pass has also been busier than usual.

Cafe owner Sean Moran said Monday was hectic.

On Monday, Lewis Pass was also closed, leaving Arthur's Pass as the only available route between Picton and Christchurch.

Mr Moran said the cafe had just gone through Labour Weekend and the Canterbury Show Weekend, and then in the past couple of days it had been nearly as busy as show weekend again. ``It's backed off a little but still quite busy.''

The New Zealand Transport Agency said today the Lewis Pass would probably be the main State highway route from Christchurch to Picton for several months.

With the Lewis Pass route carrying higher volumes of traffic, people should allow an additional 90 minutes to two hours for the journey between Christchurch and Picton on the Lewis Pass route. Average journey times are now expected to take seven and a half hours.

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