Manawatu Gorge highway replacement revealed

Slip-ravaged State Highway 3 through Manawatu Gorge will be abandoned and replaced by a new half-billion dollar road.

Officials today revealed the new route, which will re-establish the vital transport link that has been closed since last April.

The highway through Manawatu Gorge was often closed for extended periods due to huge slips coming down from the steep hillsides.

Several slips last April proved the final straw for the NZTA, which has finally unveiled plans for a new-look state highway.

"People within the community needed certainty so they could make plans and decisions," Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis says. "They've got that today, so I'm really excited."

NZTA has abandoned the old slip-plagued gorge, opting for a route just north that will still connect Woodville to Ashhurst.

Officials decided against upgrading the Saddle Road, which has been used as a temporary route since last year.

Manawatu Gorge connects the North Island's East Coast to Palmerston North and the lower North Island.

Officials say the new route was chosen after weighing up the needs of both cars and transport operators. 

"It will have a travel time that's shorter than the current Manawatu Gorge," NZTA regional relationship director Emma Speight said. "It's got a gradient of 8 percent, which is really important for freight users, and the route is going to be more resilient in earthquake conditions."

The estimated cost is between $390-568 million and work will begin in 2020, with the road opening in 2024.

Mayor Collis says the announcement is a huge boost for the region, which has suffered over the past year with the gorge cut off.

"It's had a huge impact on the freight industry. Some of those trips, they haven't been able to get more than one trip done a day, when they might have been able to do two, so there's been some increased fuel and maintenance costs."

The Automobile Association backs the new route, and supports NZTA's decision to pursue a business case for a new Regional Freight Ring Road and a second bridge across the Manawatu River.