A proposal to temporarily close Ōtaki Gorge Road at the intersection with State Highway 1 drew a larger than usual crowd to the expressway’s Southern Neighbourhood Group meeting on July 28.
Fletchers construction manager Steve Findlay fronted the meeting, presenting the usual progress report and future works. However, the big crowd, with some saying they had previously known nothing of the proposal, suggested the Gorge Road issue was top of locals’ agenda.
Steve said the expressway team needed to do some work at the intersection to align the road with the highway. It was complicated by the fact that the two new bridges on Ōtaki Gorge Road – over the rail track and the expressway – were 3-4 metres higher than the existing road. It would require a steep gradient of about 8 percent.
The original plan was to complete the alignment after the expressway was open. However, it would have resulted in an intersection with reduced functionality for at least 12 months.
“To get the alignment work done effectively and have a fully functional intersection right from the start, we might have to close the road for a short while,” Steve said.
Because of the complexity of the work, he was not able to say how long the road would be closed.
“It might be two weeks, it might be two months. I just can’t say.”
He reiterated, however, that the closure was still a proposal and no final decision had been made.
“We don’t want to close it if we don’t have to.”
The work would involve a diversion of the existing highway onto land just west of the intersection.
Hautere and Te Horo residents were concerned that traffic normally using Ōtaki Gorge Road would have a long diversion south to exit onto the highway through the busy School Road/highway intersection.
However, at a later presentation to the Ōtaki Community Board, on August 4, expressway project director Chris Hunt said the team was still looking at options, but at this stage the Te Horo Beach Road bridge could be operational before any closure of Ōtaki Gorge Road. Traffic diverted from the gorge road would be able to use the bridge to access the highway north or south.
If the gorge road was closed, it would likely be early in the new year. He reiterated Steve Findlay’s analysis of the complexity of the job.
“Until we finalise all our sequencing and staging, and finalise the volume of fill that needs to go in there, it’s difficult to predict whether it’s going to be a two-week or two-month closure,” Chris said.
Meantime, he confirmed that the construction team expected the expressway to be completed and ready for traffic some time in 2022.
Before the Covid-19 lockdown, it was hoped the road would have a mid-2021 opening date.
Delays due to Covid-19, the recent decision to place a more durable surface on the expressway (page 3, July Ōtaki Today) and other factors such as the commitment to have a shared pathway with the expressway have pushed the date out.
Commenting on a perceived lack of communication, a Fletchers statement to Ōtaki Today said the project team had always been transparent with the community about local road closures, providing at least six months’ notice of these occurring.
“Our approach with Ōtaki Gorge Road has been no different. We are still working through the methodology in regard to the work needed to tie in Ōtaki Gorge Road with SH1, but some restrictions and/or a closure will be necessary.
“We initially raised this at a Community Liaison Group meeting but it appears that the community have been provided with incorrect information as to the timing of the closure.
“We are continuing to work through the timing and duration of the road closure but this is not currently planned to occur before early 2021. We will continue to work through the detail and consult with the community once this is available.”