New Zealand’s roading network has been hit hard this year, with some punishing shots from tropical cyclones and other severe weather events.
Cyclone Hale had a significant impact on the North Island over Auckland Anniversary Weekend, flooding the country’s biggest city and causing widespread havoc. But this disaster paled in comparison to what happened next, with Cyclone Gabrielle devastating much of the Hawke’s Bay, East Coast and knocking out vital transport links across the Northland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty.
When the going gets tough the nation’s road maintenance teams put on their high-vis jackets and step up to reconnect communities by restoring washed-out roads and replacing destroyed bridges.
We take a look at five of 2023’s most epic repair jobs to shine a light on the road maintenance heroes who make an epic difference to local communities by making sure our roads recover faster from weather disasters.
Hawke’s Bay has been the unfortunate recipient of a continual bombardment from extreme weather events throughout 2023, with Gisborne and Wairoa disconnected from the rest of the country and Esk Valley all but destroyed.
The silver lining has been incredible collaboration by the community to support each other as well as the dedication of stalwart road maintenance crews to get transport links up and running in the face of tremendous challenges.
After a month and a half of solid work, State Highway 5 linking Napier and Taupō was reopened – a dramatic recovery after it was damaged beyond recognition by huge slips, washouts and flooding caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. The extent of the damage meant excavators were required to clear silt and vegetation from roads, and temporary Bailey bridges had to be installed to restore access.
The highway runs alongside the Esk Valley – the epicentre of Cyclone Gabrielle’s destruction – when it was out of action motorists travelling from Napier to Taupō had to take a five-hour detour.
Many kilometres of road and 12 bridges were destroyed by the barrage of the cyclone, including Esk River Bridge, Te Reinga Bridge and Redclyffe Bridge, isolating communities and requiring Civil Defence teams to be flown in by helicopter.
Thanks to a truly epic effort, which has seen countless hours or work and a number of temporary Bailey bridges being deployed, all state highways are now open, albeit some during daylight hours only for safety reasons.
State Highway 25 is the key corridor for traffic to and from the Coromandel and circles most of the coast of the peninsula. Cyclone Gabrielle knocked it off its feet with widespread flooding, but a well-co-ordinated relief effort and some serious hard work from the Higgins’ road maintenance team meant the highway was good to go within a week of the Cyclone passing over the peninsula.
Despite subsidiary State Highway 25A still being out of action due to a gigantic slip, which is estimated to take at least a year to address, the repair work on State Highway 25 has reconnected Coromandel’s communities.
Auckland’s West Coast
Cyclone Gabrielle cut off communities in Piha, Muriwai and Karekare as severe landslips caused extensive damage to roads. In the months since, road crews have been hard at work to restore as much access as possible.
Piha Road opened to the general public in May, and Muriwai was opened up when access was allowed through Waitea Road in June. Karakare Road still requires some work but the efforts of road maintenance workers have ensured limited access to Karekare is possible once more.
Nelson and Marlborough
Nelson is one of the communities assessed to be most at risk from flooding in New Zealand and has been hit hard in recent years, with a state of emergency declared in August 2022 after continuous heavy rain wreaked havoc and transport links were cut off.
An epic result has been the opening of State Highway 6 between Nelson and Blenheim after extensive damage occurred in 2022. That work involving $15 million of repairs worked miracles, restoring the highway to operation in just 48 days over a two-month period. It enabled communities in each city to be re-connected just before Christmas, and further repairs and stabilisation efforts have continued in the first half of 2023.
Marlborough District Council also has a $160 million plan to strengthen other key roads in the region, including Kenepuru Road and the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive, which means plenty of options for aspiring workers to apply their energy towards future proofing the area’s transport links.
From the crack of dawn road crews were out clearing gnarly slips and fallen trees in hazardous conditions on the West Coast’s main artery between Ross and Haast in February.
Downed powerlines delayed the repair effort between Whataroa and Franz Josef, but flooded sections between Haast Pass and Franz Josef, and Ross and Whataroa were reopened within 24 hours.
It was a herculean effort, performed under pressure and at breakneck speed, making this repair a worthy contender to round out our top five epic road repairs of 2023 so far.