INDEPENDENT NEWS

Milford road rockfall risk: two stopping areas to close

Published: Wed 20 Nov 2019 01:36 PM
Change to management of the Milford Road this summer season due to rockfall risk: two stopping areas to close
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, alongside the Department of Conservation, is closing two stopping areas on the Milford Sound highway (SH94) for the summer season, due to increased rockfall risk with subsequent potential danger to people.
“Recently we completed a detailed rockfall assessment of the Homer Saddle area, after a significant rockfall close to road users in late May this year, on SH94 near the Homer Tunnel,” says Graeme Hall, System Manager, for the Transport Agency.(See photo below taken on the highway camera nearby.)
This photo taken on 27 May, 2019 shows a rock hitting the ground near a vehicle in a pull-over area close to the eastern entrance to the Homer Tunnel. The rock, one of several which fell, had just fallen about 600 metres from a nearby steep alpine rock face. The tourists heard the rocks falling from height and had time to get behind their campervans.
“This assessment found that some parts of SH94 are currently high risk for rockfall, hence the need to take some immediate, practical measures to keep all road users and visitors safe. As we go from the avalanche season, which already has stopping restrictions due to winter avalanche risk, into the summer season (this week), we will maintain the current winter stopping locations for road users’ and visitors’ safety.
“This will affect tour bus operators as well as independent travellers. The Transport Agency is working closely with the Department of Conservation to ensure operators and concession holders are aware of the changes, and why they are necessary.
“Longer term, the Transport Agency is looking at ways to mitigate or reduce the rockfall risk to a more acceptable level, however, any changes will not be in place for this summer,” says Mr Hall. “We understand how frustrating this will be for many tour bus operators, who have used these stopping locations adjacent to the Homer Tunnel over the years, but we have to put risk to life over photo opportunities.”
“The Department of Conservation (DOC) wholeheartedly supports the closure of these stopping areas to protect the safety of visitors and all users of Milford Road.  DOC has notified all concessionaires that may be affected by the changes and will work with them and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to manage impacts on their business as necessary,” says Nedra Burns, Operations Manager DOC, Te Anau.
Where are the no-stopping areas?
There will be a No Stopping zone from the current winter traffic signal location on the east side of Homer Tunnel – through to the tunnel entrance. The second No Stopping area is on the western side of the tunnel. Drivers travelling to Milford will not be able to stop for about 850 metres west of the Homer Tunnel. The Chasm carpark is now the only formal carparking area on this section of the highway.
• The Homer Tunnel carpark on the eastern side will close and people queued to go through the single lane tunnel on that side will be moved 200 metres further back from the tunnel entrance.
• The area on the west side of the tunnel currently used for traffic stopping at the traffic signals will continue to be used as it is. The rockfall shelter portal of the Homer Tunnel provides a safer passage through this area.
• The “Loop 2” carpark on the western/ Milford Sound side of the tunnel will be physically closed off from the highway with a bund.
“Signs in Mandarin and English are being installed now so visitors will know these areas are no long considered a safe place to park or take photos or to pause too long if they are walking,” says Mr Hall.

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