Travel over the Southern Region’s alpine passes, such as State Highway 73 that connects Canterbury to the West Coast, can be challenging for the tourists, freight drivers and locals who traverse them. As the highways are often cut into the side of steep, mountainous terrain they are narrow and prone to rock falls and slips during periods of rain or snow.
Work is now underway to realign and widen the notorious five kilometre section of State Highway 73 from Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek, near the Arthur’s Pass township. This section of the highway is narrow at many points, with tight corners following the contour of the mountainside, resulting in poor visibility and safety concerns. Freight trucks and tourist buses travelling in different directions can struggle to pass on the narrow, winding carriageway, causing delays for the vehicles behind them.
The $22m project is one of the Government’s five Accelerated Regional State Highway Package projects. When completed in two years, State Highway 73 will offer safer and more predictable journeys between the two sides of the island, and continued growth in traffic volumes because of its greater reliability is expected.
As well as the engineering and traffic management elements of the project, steps to manage the environmental and heritage impacts of the work are being taken.
Collaboration with the Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury and the NZ Fish and Game Council has resulted in agreement that seed from rare plant species will be collected and redistributed once the work is completed and other affected plant species will be replanted in the area. Where fish habitats will be disturbed, the fish will be captured, removed from the affected streams and returned to re-established areas. Where water is diverted, new passages will be built for fish to reach spawning grounds. Heritage New Zealand has identified features along the route that will be preserved, and the significance of the route for local iwi will be recognised with an interpretation panel.