Budget 2017 will provide up to $812 million to restore State Highway 1 between Picton and Christchurch in the South Island.
The 2016 November earthquake in Kaikōura caused extensive road damage, closing a significant portion of the main highway. Since the quake, drivers have had to take alternative routes, adding extra hours of travel.
What would usually take around 4 hours, now takes 6 and a half, using the alternative route through Murchison and Hanmer Springs.
The alternative route from Picton to Christchurch. Image/ google maps
Minister of Transport Simon Bridges says the Government's priority is to reinstate the pre-earthquake transport links to Kaikoura and its surrounding areas and ensure these links are resilient in years to come.
“The corridor is planned to reopen before the end of 2017 with funding to be provided over the 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years for work to continue after the route reopens."
Railway lines were also severed by the Kaikōura quake, destroying the 347km stretch of rail between Picton and Christchurch
Road access south of Kaikōura was opened before Christmas, but the transport agency said there's a possibility the highway north would not be open until the end of 2017.
The Budget is also making funding available for KiwiRail to continue reinstatement work, while its insurance claim is finalised.
KiwiRail said that in March this year a ballast tamper arrived in the South Island to assist in the restoration of the Main North Line railway linking Christchurch and Picton.
“The tamper, along with its crew of six, is normally based in Palmerston North, but has been shifted south as part of KiwiRail’s efforts to re-open the earthquake-damaged line as quickly as possible,”
The Main North Line railway between Picton and Christchurch is a critical part of the network for moving freight between the North and South Islands.
The arrival of the tamper is an important step forward in getting the line open. There is still work to be done but we are making good progress in restoring this vital link," says acting Chief Executive Todd Moyle.
Railway tracks destroyed in Kaikōura following the earthquake.
The estimated cost of restoring the road and railway tracks is between $1.1 and $1.33 billion.
Bridges says, "This is still a very large amount, and reflects there are a number of uncertainties when dealing with damage and destruction of this scale."
Bridges adds that more than $45 million of work has already been completed since the earthquake, including "clearing slips and obstructions, undertaking geotechnical assessments, and reinstating rail tracks".
“The New Zealand Transport Agency is considering additional improvements to improve the coastal corridor, which could see a further investment of up to $240 million from the National Land Transport Fund," Bridges adds.
Blenheim local Nikita Watkins, who frequently travels along the state highway, spoke to the Online News Team and said the government funding is welcome news.
"From sporting events to tourism, the extra funding will allow more people to travel more direct from Canterbury to Malborough. We haven't been back to Christchurch yet because the thought of a seven hour drive with little ones isn't very appealing."
Watkins says with winter approaching, it could mean further road closures on the inland route.
"The new route takes you through the Lewis Pass, snow will most likely fall and close the road. We can't wait until SH1 reopens so we can do the weekend trip to Christchurch to visit family and friends.
With the new route you need to allow an extra two days for travelling. Flying isn't that practical because Air New Zealand is not flying direct to Christchurch from Blenheim, you have to fly via Wellington."