Concerns for drivers stuck in traffic on frozen SH1 in South Island

Source: 1News

Heavy snow on the East Coast of the South Island has caused significant traffic delays this evening as queues have gathered on State Highway 1.

Heavy queues along SH1 in the Hundalee region.

NZTA tweeted this earlier this evening that SH1 Hundalee's northbound lane was blocked.

A motorist told 1 NEWS she had been stuck in queues on the Hundalee Hills for four hours in "zero degree temperatures".

Marie Rodley said she had travelled from Picton earlier today, heading to Timaru with her partner in their four-wheel drive ute but after making it to the Hundalee Hills, faced heavy queues and on advice decided to turn around and go back to Kaikōura.

"The thing is I checked all the warnings at 3.00pm when we went down that way but on NZTA's website there was "no mention" of any road closures or incidents.

"We were trapped by 4.00pm," she said.

She said a truckdriver had told her that trucks had broken down and crashed at the bottom of the far side of the Hundalees.

Police confirmed to 1 NEWS trucks had jack-knifed at about 2.40pm.

"Police have had a presence in the area today where required to assist contractors, as they worked to make the road passable," a spokesperson told 1 NEWS.

"Police's advice is to always pay attention to weather warnings before making your intended journey, and prepare accordingly."

Rodley says she's surprised the road wasn't closed much earlier in the day. 

"Even when we turned around there were hundreds of cars and we were just thinking, 'don't do it.'"

"I worry about people sitting in their cars for hours and hours and finally being allowed to travel in such icy conditions," she said. 

A Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency spokesperson told 1 NEWS snow levels were at five cm mid-afternoon but had reached 20cm by nightfall.

"Snow on the southern Hundalees got much deeper later this afternoon than we anticipated. Despite road crews having extra resources a jack-knifed truck reduced the highway to a single lane in the afternoon creating a big backlog wait.

At 10.00pm this evening a backlog of about 30 trucks were still stuck on the stretch of road, the spokesperson said. 

"About 30 trucks with key freight deliveries are now stopped on the Hundalees, graders are ready to tow out the jack-knifed trucks once cars are cleared.

"Cars are queued up at the Conway River and Limestone Creek at each end of the breakdown area. Waka kotahi crews are now convoying cars through single lane direction. We are hoping to have the backlog cleared around 11.00 pm.

"All the queued cars, bar four or five parked near the top were able to do a u-turn and go back the way they came. For their own reasons they decided to wait. We understand the highway was not officially closed so they may well have assumed the delay would be shorter than it turned out to be."

The spokesperson said based on previous snowfalls, the Omihi Saddle gets more than the Hundalees "but in this situation, that was not the case".

"Waka Kotahi in hindsight could have closed the highway mid-afternoon however given the Lewis Pass was already closed SH1 was the single remaining lifeline route between Picton/ Nelson and Christchurch. 

"We apologise to people who have endured freezing temperatures and we will have a full debrief on this tomorrow," the spokesperson said. 

"Anyone who has run out of gas will be taken care of by the crews who were doing their best in very difficult circumstances".

It comes as significant snowfall has forced some of the South Island’s main arterial routes closed, with more on the way.