Simon Bridges backs new route for Manawatu Gorge
Transport Minister Simon Bridges is backing the idea to build an alternative route to the Manawatu Gorge.
Another major slip came down at the weekend, and Mr Bridges told The AM Show on Tuesday morning the gorge probably won't re-open.
The gorge has been closed since April due to a number of slips, and local businesses have suffered as a result.
Mr Bridges said there would be action taken, and the most likely solution was an alternative route that provided an improved road with greater resilience.
"What we've got to do is have a permanent, much better, more resilient route. What I can't say today is hand-on-heart will it be something around the gorge, or something quite different."
The New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) is contracting a new route at present, he said, and a decision would be made by the end of the year.
He said studies from 2011 and 2012 concluded there were different options, ranging in price scale from around $18m to about $1.8b.
But money wasn't an issue, he said.
"Where there are these sorts of issues we're prepared to act- we've got a strong economy, we can do these things. It's not about money it's about what is the best permanent improvement."
Mr Bridges said he was giving as much of an answer as he could and was "clearly committing and saying the transport agency and the government see a better route as the option".
For the economic losses accrued by local businesses the most important thing was to get traffic back, he said.
In the past they had not issued economic relief packages when the gorge was shut - this occurs when a state of emergency is declared, he said.
But he was open to talking about compensation for those affected, and his mind could be changed.
"I will go and talk with them, but it's less than more likely".
But deputy leader of NZ First Ron Mark hit back at Mr Bridges' response to the on-going issue, and described it as a "load of fluff".
"It's been closed since April and he's just going up there now to have a look? That's part of the problem - people are sick and tired of this slow response."
"They're way too slow. They're only panicking now because of the backlash. The backlash is huge."
Mr Mark said it was time for a "whole of government approach" to help ease the problems caused by the closure of the gorge.
"Why is this any different to Kaikoura, which was closed by two slips? You get business relief in Kaikoura.
"In these small towns they know the families they're employing. The worst possible thing if you own a business in Woodville is contemplating having to lay off staff when you know there's going to be no job for them, and these guys are still fluffing around."
Mr Mark said the government was boasting about spending $8.4m on surface work on the Saddle Road, "but that roads' stuffed".
"So we applaud him for doing nothing since 2012? In 2012 they got an options paper from NZTA they parked it up."
"Look at Waterview tunnel - the amount of money spent on that ostentatious landscaping, architecture and art on those panels is astonishing."
He said all they were asking for on the Saddle Road and the Pahiatua Track was "a few railway lines, some planks and some culverts to drain the water off- and some decent surfacing. We're certainly not going to be asking a billion dollars to get that upgraded".
Mr Bridges will be meeting with locals in the area on Wednesday.