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New SH3 could divert heavy freight

The Manawatu-Tararua Highway. PHOTO/NZTA

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The $620 million Manawatu-Tararua highway [State Highway 3] was formally confirmed on Monday. Not only will this cut travel times for those heading from Wairarapa to Palmerston North, it will divert a lot of Wellington-bound freight traffic, such as logging, out of Wairarapa to the west coast.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford signed off on the formal agreement in Woodville on Monday morning, along with Labour MPs Kieran McAnulty and Meka Whaitiri. Work will start in October this year, with more than 60 per cent of the roles created guaranteed to local people.

The new highway would span 11.5km between Woodville and Ashhurst, and include seven bridges and structures, as well as a shared path for walkers and cyclists.

The development would slash travel times for those crossing from western to central North Island. Woodville to Palmerston North takes about 40 minutes, it would take just 15 minutes once the new highway was built – which had big implications for freight.

One major Hawke’s Bay logging firm, which commented anonymously, said that the new highway was “likely” to be the preferred route for timber heading south to Wellington’s port, linking up with SH1, which was also undergoing major improvements.

The freight would have normally gone through Wairarapa on SH2. This means that several of the large, articulated logging trucks on the region’s roads would vanish, virtually overnight.

The first phase of the highway’s construction would be preliminary works, such as the creation of access tracks and water reservoirs, with the main building beginning in January 2021.

The road would replace the former State Highway 3 route through the Manawatu Gorge, which was hit by a massive slip in 2017 and has been closed since.

The closure has meant that those heading to the west coast, or east to Wairarapa, have either had to take Pahiatua Aokautere Rd to the south of the gorge, or Saddle Rd to the north, past the Te Apiti Wind Farm.

The New Zealand Transport Agency, Fulton Hogan, HEB Construction, Aurecon, and engineering services firm WSP would be involved in the project, expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

Masterton District Council Mayor Lyn Patterson said the jobs provided would be crucial to boosting the economy over the next few years.

“This announcement is great news. Once the project is completed, it will increase accessibility to Wairarapa for visitors, as well as locals heading north.

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