Waikare River bridge repairs. Photo: Waka Kotahi

A new agreement to rebuild the road network on the East Coast after Cyclone Gabrielle signed by Waka Kotahi, KiwiRail, Fulton Hogan and other existing maintenance contractors was announced by last week.

The Transport Recovery: East Coast Alliance will design and deliver road works on the state highway and rail networks over the coming years. 

Funding from the National Land Transport Fund, which was topped up with an additional $250 million after the Cyclone, was used to cover the cost of emergency repairs. A further $275 was earmarked for work in Budget 2023, Waka Kotahi Acting Group General Manager Transport Services Robyn Elston said.

“This funding has allowed both Waka Kotahi and councils in affected areas to get on with repairs to both state highways and local roads to reconnect communities as soon as possible.”

An interim agreement was signed in April with the philosophy of ‘East Coast first’, in terms of how the work would be delivered, she said. This meant prioritising locally owned and operated contractors for delivery of works and local suppliers to support the regional supply chain recovery.

“The East Coast has a strong pool of hard-working, skilled, and experienced contractors, consultants, and businesses who understand both road building and the East Coast whenua …There are considerable opportunities for these businesses and the East Coast first approach gives them the confidence to invest in their people, in their machinery, and in their region.”

The Alliance is expected to be in place for several years.

KiwiRail had been on the ground doing repairs to reinstating and reopen key rail lines across the region. Programme Director Daniel Headmen said the alliance was another step in that process. KiwiRail was committed to the alliance and the region’s rebuild, he said.

“We are already using local sub-contractors, where we can, and are committed to continuing that effort as the rebuild progresses.”

Elston said that the signing last week was a considerable milestone, however there was more work ahead to get the state highway network in shape for current and future needs, including climate change resilience, as well as aspirations for new connection across the East Coast.

One road Wairoa locals have been keen on for a long time, is a new Wairoa to Napier road. The existing one is both very windy and very unsafe, locals say. 

“The quality of roading on the East Coast is absolutely appalling. It has been neglected because it’s in the too hard basket,” beef farmer Alan Newton said. “The amount of produce that comes out of this region is a big contributor to the GDP of this country. It would benefit all of the people on the East Coast and change the entire dynamic. Gisborne also relies on this road.”

The existing road serviced about 70,000 people, from the southern tip of Gisborne to the top of Hicks Bay. There was no shortage of road tax taken between Wairoa and Napier every day to pay for such improvements, he said.

Newton said it could even help the gang issue, because a decent, straighter road, that could get people between the two towns in a shorter time would provide economic opportunities. People could commute both ways, he said.

A Waka Kotahi spokesman said the agency was currently finalising its Resilience Strategic Response projects for Tairāwhiti, Wairoa and Hawke’s Bay and there was a “preferred programme of work” for the state high way network in the region.

This project is to make it safer and less likely to suffer closures, as well as more accessible by making travel times more consistent for drivers. It’s part of a package of projects in the Tairāwhiti region that have been identified for enabling economic growth in the region.

The realignment project will include 3.9 kms of new road and a 160 metre long arch bridge, approximately 60 metres above the Waikari River. Resource consent was applied for in May.

Waikare River Bridge wash out Photo Tania Kerr

“For each state highway there is a range of potential work activities from minor resilience works such as retaining walls and enlarged culverts through to significant works such as bypassing sections of the existing network. One project we are already moving forward with is the Waikare Gorge realignment.

“Waka Kotahi is working with Ministry of Transport and Treasury around the preferred programmes and potential funding requirements. Once funding has been announced we will be able to provide further detail on the exact scope of works and how this will staged over the coming years.”

More investigation was needed for much of the future works, along with planning and community engagement before works could begin. More information would be shared about the recovery planning as things progressed, he said.

Public interest journalism funded by New Zealand on Air.


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  1. A new improved Napier-Wairoa/ Gisborne road would indeed be an exciting prospect! We must ensure that the vege greens get to their markets. Thank you Waka Kotahi

  2. It would be excellent if both Road and rail between Napier and Gisborne were given equal measure. This would surely mean that people and produce could be moved by both modes and rail would remove heavy traffic when it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have trucks moving products and produce

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