Saddle Rd needs constant maintenance to cope with heavy traffic.
Trucking companies are counting the cost of the indefinite closure of the Manawatu Gorge route.
The road has been closed since April 24 when a large slip covered both lanes of State Highway 3, between Palmerston North and Woodsville.
Palmerston North trucking company, Winiata Distribution owner Nigel Winiata said the alternative Saddle Road route added 15 to 20 minutes each way to his trips to and from Hawke’s Bay.
Winiata has a fleet of four trucks that deliver groceries for Foodstuffs around the lower North Island.
Foodstuffs owns the Pak ‘n Save and New World supermarket chains.
He said for a business with small profit margins, the road closure took its toll on his bottom line.
He had not sat down to calculate the costs of the extra petrol, tyre replacements, and other wear and tear since April but said he would hate to look at it.
“You can’t wear that sort of thing because the margins are just so fine. It’s a very cutthroat industry.”
Winiata said the Saddle Road and the Pahiatua Track had “taken a hell of a hammering” with the increased traffic.
A month ago two trucking accidents on each of the alternative routes halted traffic for an entire morning on the Saddle Rd and caused congestion on the Pahiatua track.
New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has spent $8.5 million dollars upgrading Saddle Rd from a “goat track”, but Winiata the road is rapidly degrading.
“We’ve got pothole after pothole, it’s just getting chewed right up.”
“Definitely an alternative route up to highway-standard would be good.”
NZTA regional transport system manager Ross l’Anson said more work on the road was planned.
“The reality is that the Saddle Rd will effectively be functioning as the state highway connection for this part of the country for some time.”
About 5500 vehicles a day on Saddle Rd in June according to Tararua District Council figures.
King said about 75 per cent of traffic that once used the Manawatu Gorge was now using Saddle Rd twhile the other 25 per cent used the Pahiatua Track.
Upgrades on Saddle Rd have focused on making the road less winding for trucks, but King said this also made the road steeper.
Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley is urging NZTA and the Government to “bite the bullet” now to commit to an enduring solution for the Manawatu Gorge.
“It is vital that we find a solution that can be relied on and will not require the almost constant remedial work the gorge has required in recent times.”
Shirley said if money was no object a tunnel would be the most logical option.
ANZ chief economist Cameron Bagrie said the gorge closure would have a regional economic impact, but not a national one.
“That Gorge hasn’t been operational for a little while already so by and large business is still going on, it’s just that the easiest route is out.”
Bagrie said an expensive “gold-plated solution” might not be the best idea.
“There are endless possibilities, but of course there is not a bottomless pot of money.”