Three months after a storm damaged SH1 through Mangamuka Gorge, there is still no timeline for repairs. Photo / Waka Kotahi
The indefinite closure of State Highway 1 through Mangamuka Gorge is wearing Hōreke resident Maryanne Bedggood down.
Since the August storm that forced the closure of her main route to the school where she works
as a kaiako (teacher) in Awanui, she has two detour options.
“The commute through the gorge was 45 minutes tops, but since the closure I’m forced to go either SH10, which is three and a half hours return, if there are no cars or trucks.”
The other way is a little better, though not as safe; three hours return, turning off at the township of Mangamuka via Broadwood, Herekino and Ahipara.
“But the roads at the moment are unstable, there’s a few slips along there. There’s cracks in the road all along there.”
As months tick by, and there is still no timeline from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to fix the main route between Whangārei and Kaitaia, Bedggood is rethinking her six-year career at Te Rangi Aniwaniwa Māori immersion school.
“Where I work, I was enjoying it until all this happened.
“It’s getting a bit tiring, I still like my job, but it’s getting a bit too much now.”
Bedggood has a son further north who has offered her a place to stay “when the going gets tough”.
But with four young children, the house is already full.
The school has been supportive, asking her to consider study leave options next year and has offered to contribute to her petrol costs which have soared to $400 per week.
She’s looked at renting closer to work, but with a cat and two dogs, she knows her chances of finding somewhere suitable are slim, and besides, her elderly parents who live up the road rely on her.
“I’m thinking, at what stage do I say no more?
“These government ministers need to come and have a look because at the moment we’re all in limbo.”
Bedggood isn’t the only one who feels stranded since the section of SH1 was shut due to slips, completely cutting off parts of the Far North from the rest of the country.
Many are losing faith the road will ever be repaired.
Although the transport agency says $14 million has been approved for emergency works to protect the road from extra damage, this isn’t expected to be completed until March next year, and even then, the road will remain closed to traffic.
The transport agency plans to apply for funding early next year to enable SH1 to be remediated to allow traffic to use it as normal, but can’t confirm a timeframe for this work.
Far North mayor Moko Tepania said he was “incredibly frustrated” at the lack of action being taken.
“Especially on behalf of the 20,000 people who live north of the Mangamukas.
“That’s a significant portion of the population who are effectively cut off from the rest of our country because SH1 is closed.
“I’m more frustrated because when I look at other regions who’ve had issues like this – more recently Kaikoura or Nelson/Marlborough – who’ve had weather-related damage to their networks, they’ve been resolved and we’re still in limbo.
“It’s really unfair… the fact our lifeline is closed for the foreseeable future.”
Tepania said while he was glad about the $14m to get work started, the transport agency had told him it could be up to 24 months before the road was reopened.
“That’s if they’re lucky enough to get funding.
“There are a lot of people who cross the Mangamukas for work … people need to make decisions around their livelihoods.
“We don’t appreciate being left in the dark for this long.”
Tepania said there needs to be “some sort of ministerial or government intervention to give certainty to our people”.
He has an upcoming meeting with Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis where he will be highlighting the issue, and he has already met with Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime.
“It’s really hōhā [annoying] because of the lack of clear communication in this space.
“There is a huge disconnect between MPs, the public sector, and us on the ground.”
It’s the second time the gorge has been closed in recent years; it was also hit by major slips in July 2020, and repairs took almost a year and cost $13.8m.
This year’s closure means, once again, motorists have to detour along SH10, adding at least 30 minutes to journeys and loading more traffic onto the smaller highway.
Kaitaia Business Association president Andrea Panther doesn’t believe the road will ever get fixed.
“The Far North is being treated completely differently to the rest of the country,” she said.
“The Government could step in and fix this but they don’t care enough about the Far North.
“I don’t have any confidence they will do anything about it.
“It’s bulls**t they [the transport agency] haven’t gone to the Government [for funding] already. It’s been shut since August and we’re nearly in December.”
Panther said people from all walks of life, from freight and haulage workers to those who need medical treatment at Whangārei Hospital, are facing longer journeys and associated petrol costs.
“Every industry is impacted. We’ve got businesses losing thousands because they’ve not got people driving past anymore. It’s not just the 20,000 who live north of the Mangamukas – it’s people who want to come up this way. People are not going to want to come up over the summer.”
The SH10 detour is “rough, narrow, there are no passing lanes, and it’s usually busy”, Panther said.
“It adds another 40 minutes onto travel plans, plus they’re trying to do roadworks. It’s a nightmare.”
Hazely Windelborn, who co-owns Pine Tree Marketing and Harvesting, said the state highway closure was hitting his forestry business hard.
“It’s affecting us negatively in heaps of ways. Just the time it’s taking the trucks to go the long way … it’s all time.
“And the fact SH10 is so congested. Kaeo bridge is under construction and you’re backed up from all the trucks.”
Transport agency system design regional manager Randhir Karma said the $14m involves preservation works such as crack sealing, drainage work on SH1, and further slip clearing.
It also includes urgent work on SH10, such as the repair of three underslips and the strengthening of Waitangi and Parapara bridges.
SH1 will remain closed during this work, with restricted access for locals and emergency services, he said.
The transport agency is also working on a funding application to release further funds to repair the damage.
“We anticipate submitting an application for funding approval early in the new year.
“If approved, this funding will enable SH1 to be remediated to allow traffic to use it as normal, however, there will always be a level of risk with the likelihood of continued severe weather events affecting the road.
“We are unable to confirm a timeframe for this work … Because this is such a complex piece of work, it may take some time for us to determine what the next steps forward are.”
In September, Associate Transport Minister Kieran McAnulty visited the Far North to survey the damage via helicopter.
At the time he said he planned to head back to Wellington immediately and talk to senior ministers about what he’d seen and the disruption it had caused.
Yesterday, McAnulty said he “acknowledges the difficulties faced by Far North communities”.
“The complexities of the slips mean it’s important all tests are carried out fully before we’re able to move forward, which takes some time.
“I’ve been assured that Waka Kotahi have been working as quickly as they can while making sure the work is done to a high standard and staff are working in safe conditions.”