By Ryan O’Sullivan, Wairoa Star
Emotions overflowed for many at the official blessing of State Highway 2 on Saturday.
Hastings District Council mayor Sandra Hazlehurst struggled to hold back tears as the Bailey bridge at Waikare Gorge was opened.
“This bridge is a start to our reconnection and recovery with Wairoa,” Hazlehurst said.
“I acknowledge the trying times Denise [Eaglesome-Karekare] and Wairoa have had to go through, and the mahi they have had to do over the last three months.
“For farmers, there has been a whole lot of frustration, isolation and trauma. You are strong leaders.”
Wairoa ward for Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Di Roadley said it was an honour to be part of the occasion.
“The emotion I am seeing on the faces of everyone and the words being spoken are amazing.
“This is a small step to a complex situation as we recover from Cyclone Gabrielle.
“The opening of this bridge comes after many hours of work spent by the contractors and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.”
Regional manager for Higgins Andrew Shannon said there had been an unbelievable amount of silt to move from Tutira to Wairoa.
“The sheer scale of damage was the most surprising part of this project.”
Trying to complete the road in time for the opening, Shannon said they made a promise two weeks ago to open on Sunday.
“It was nerve-racking with the rain on Tuesday as you cannot asphalt roads in the rain.
“We did some road markings on the Friday and finished up on the guard rails after the blessing.”
Regional manager for Waka Kotahi Jaclyn Hankin is an Eskdale resident and said the day was very special for her.
“Cyclone Gabrielle has been a heartache for many and I hope this opening can release some stress. I express my gratitude for the patience the community has shown.
“I remember on my first trip only getting as far as Tangoio and now we are finally able to reconnect with Wairoa.”
She said the road does not signify the end of the road for repair and recovery.
“Contractors will continue to be present at a number of locations along the highway during daylight hours, working on areas with varying levels of damage,” Hankin said.
“This means people driving through the area will see considerable traffic management in places and lower speed restrictions.
“This stretch of SH 2 suffered the most damage of any of our networks, largely due to the topography of the surrounding area.”
Road users drove across the Bailey bridge on Sunday — the first time since February 13 Wairoa could connect with Putorino.
SH 2 is open between 7am to 6pm.
Police urge motorists to drive to the conditions as much of the road is still affected.
Speed restrictions are in place and some areas are down to single lanes with traffic lights and signage, and longer travel times as a result.