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Time to back track


Wairarapa motorists will need to plan more time for trips to Palmerston North in the next month.

The Pahiatua Track between Pahiatua and Palmerston North will be closed for repairs and resurfacing during weekdays for the next five weeks, meaning vehicles will need to take a scenic detour through the windmills of Saddle Rd.

However, some residents were less than impressed by the timing of the work.

Crews started work on Monday and were scheduled to finish on Friday, December 10.

Road closures would be in place Monday to Friday from 9am to 2.30pm, with stop-go traffic management from 7am to 9am and 2.30pm to 5pm.

The New Zealand Transport Agency [NZTA] said the day closures were necessary to enable better quality work and ensure the safety of repair crews and road users.

According to Google Maps, the Saddle Rd detour would add about 10 minutes of travel between Pahiatua and Palmerston North.

However, the trip would take longer for residents on the backroads between Pahiatua and Palmerston North.

Pahiatua resident Annie McRae lived on Tutaekara Rd, a road off State Highway 2 that connected to the Pahiatua Track via Nikau Rd and Makomako Rd.

For McRae, the Saddle Rd detour would turn a journey of about 34 minutes into a 59-minute ride.

McRae said that the extra distance would deter her from making the trip, especially with the cost of fuel.

“There is little shopping available in Pahiatua, so most go to Palmerston North or Masterton,” she said.

“By the time they get [the road] completed, it will be into December – and probably past the dates they say. No one wants to go there and fight traffic close to Christmas.”

NZTA acknowledged that the work would cause some disruption to motorists.

Regional transport system manager Ross L’Anson said that the decision to work during the day was made because of the challenging topography of the area, temperature changes at night, and visibility issues.

He said NZTA regularly carried out maintenance work across the entire state highway network to ensure roads were safe.

“With State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge closed, state highway traffic is being rerouted across the Saddle Rd and the Pahiatua Track, which means these roads are experiencing much higher traffic volumes.”

SH3 had been closed since April 2017, when slips caused damage to the road. Since the closure, drivers had used two detours: Saddle Rd to the north or Pahiatua Track to the south.

Tararua District Council was previously responsible for the maintenance of the Pahiatua Track. After the closure of SH3, NZTA took over responsibility for the track.

L’Anson said that the work would be NZTA’s first reconstruction of the road, other than general maintenance work.

He said that in 2019 and 2020, NZTA had focused its maintenance programme on Saddle Rd, which had taken on more of the traffic from the SH3 closure and was deteriorating faster than the Pahiatua Track.

“Maintenance work for Pahiatua Track was deferred to allow the use of this route as a detour while Saddle Rd was closed during maintenance.”

Ageing pavements and an increase in traffic had led to defects, such as potholes and cracks, on sections of the Pahiatua Track.

Two sections of the road to Palmerston North needed reconstruction: a 300-metre section on Pahiatua Track between County Heights Dr and Harrison Hill Rd, and a 290m section past Inglis Rd on Makomako Rd.

L’Anson said that to minimise disruption to road users throughout the year, other maintenance work on Pahiatua Track would happen at the same time as the reconstruction work.

The additional maintenance work included resealing, replacing signs, clearing drains, and other pavement repairs.

“This type of work is always weather-dependent, and we take that into consideration.

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