New slips on the Manawatu Gorge Rd. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

JAKE BELESKI

jake.beleski@age.co.nz

The New Zealand Transport Agency is staying tight-lipped about which way it will go when replacing the Manawatu Gorge Rd, but Labour MP Kieran McAnulty says those impacted the most have made their preference known.

The road was closed in April last year after major slips blocked the road, and the agency’s regional transport system manager Ross I’Anson estimated about 1000m3 of new material had fallen onto the road in the last couple of weeks.

A shortlist of four options for a new highway to connect Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu was released in October, with all options projected to take between five and seven years to complete.

Mr McAnulty said the message from communities in Tararua and Manawatu was that options three and four were preferred, with option four being the most popular.

“It was a strong message from the local communities, and I’ve been advocating for that.

“There is a strong preference for option four.”

Option four is to build a new road south of the gorge with a second bridge over the Manawatu River, connecting with the regional ring road in the Manawatu. It will cost between $450m and $550m.

That option was “significantly more expensive” due to the need for an additional bridge over the river.

Option three — a new route south of Saddle Rd at a cost of between $350m and $450 — was also a viable option, he said.

“They want more people moving to Tararua and commuting to Palmerston North, as people do from South Wairarapa to Wellington.

“There’s no reason why option three wouldn’t help with that either,” Mr McAnulty said.

Option four is also the preference of Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis and Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith, and that view was expressed to Transport Minister Phil Twyford and a transport agency representative at a meeting in Martinborough last week.

“People really want certainty, and a decision being made,” Mr McAnulty said.

“I’m having ongoing conversations with relevant ministers on how to support local businesses as they work through the process.”

Emma Speight, the transport agency’s director of regional relationships, said it was carefully considering all feedback and submissions.

“This feedback and input will be weighed up against the technical information for the four shortlisted options and the transport agency will be taking forward the option that best meets the needs of the region and provides a safe, efficient and resilient corridor.”

While progress was being made on assessing the four shortlisted options, the work was not yet complete, she said.

“NZTA is aiming to complete assessment of the shortlisted options, including how they support regional freight connectivity and future economic development, in the first quarter of 2018, with the announcement of a preferred option soon after.”

Mr Twyford confirmed at the meeting in Martinborough that the transport agency would make a public announcement in March.