Manawatu Gorge: Frustrated residents find an ally in Winston Peters

Residents affected by the repeated closure of State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge are frustrated to again be left without answers after a public meeting on Wednesday night.

But they've found an ally in New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who's been positioning himself as man of the regions.

It's been nearly three months since a slip forced the Manawatu Gorge's closure - its third major closure in six years. 

No government ministers were present at a public meeting about the future of the road on Wednesday night, a fact Mr Peters was quick to exploit. Mr Peters said the Government was leaving the New Zealand Transport Agency to "face the music" alone.

"Can you tell me one answer that had a sum of money on it and a date of commitment, other than geotech issues and they were looking into it?" he told Newshub after the meeting.

"After all this time - this is a road that opened in 1872."

Manawatu Gorge.
Manawatu Gorge. Photo credit: Newshub.

Residents echoed concerned raised by Mr Peters.

"Every question that was asked, every answer was dodged," one resident told Newshub after the meeting.

Another said it's more than just a through-road.

"Not only is it a route, it's a tourist attraction, and it should be kept open," he said.

NZTA has pulled out contractors who were clearing the road amid fears there could be another slip. It can't put a date on when, if at all, the gorge will re-open.

"We've just got to make sure those alternative routes, and the access to Woodville and the detours around Ashhurst, are going to work," NZTA highway manager Ross L'Anson told Newshub.

"Then we'll work as quickly as we can to get that long-term alternative sorted."

Prior to the slip, 7000 vehicles travelled through the gorge each day. Now many of them use Saddle Rd, meaning people have to spend more money on petrol and vehicle maintenance.

"It's costing us mega dollars a day running over that Saddle Rd and we can't afford to do that for the next four years," resident Derek Rose said.

Saddle Rd has had to undergo an $8.5 million upgrade to cope with the extra traffic. But for frustrated Woodville businesses and residents, they need a permanent fix.

On the other side of Saddle Rd, Ashhurst is seeing heavy goods vehicles diverted through residential streets, and it's keeping them up at night.

"If this were Wellington or Auckland it'd be sorted a long time ago," resident Phil Stevens told Newshub.

The NZTA is investigating long-term options to bypass or replace the gorge route, with a decision on a preferred route due in December.