By JOHN COUSINS
A remarkable change in Tauranga's roading culture will face motorists heading to work next Monday when the Hewletts Rd roundabout with Tasman Quay is converted to traffic signals.
In an amazing combination of biting the bullet and latest road construction technologies, rebuilding the intersection will be achieved in one weekend instead of two weeks.
A special $1.5m German road building machine owned by the Hewletts Rd four-laning contractor Fulton Hogan will allow progress undreamed of just a couple of years ago. And what's more it was dust free.
Transit's project manager Kevin Reid said the rebuilding of Tasman Quay intersection from Friday night to Sunday night will be a vital test run for when the roundabout with Totara St was converted to traffic signals on May 13.
It will be double shifts and a huge hive of activity from 7pm on Friday night for as long as it takes to get the job done in time for Monday morning's rush hour.
The next intersection up from the bridge, Waimarie St, will get its signals mid-June, three months before the entire $20.5 million job was finished.
A special site tour put on by Transit New Zealand yesterday for project officials and media highlighted the complexities going into four-laning of one of Tauranga's busiest roads.
Hewletts Rd is being widened between Jean Batten Drive and the old toll plaza in anticipation of the second Harbour Bridge and four-lane flyover from Takitimu Drive is built, in three years.
In one sense, the hardest part of the job was nearly finished.
This was the finding and relocation of underground services to accommodate the road widening, including council services, gas, petrol pipelines, electrical and communication cables.
Practically nothing had been straightforward and as a consequence road construction had fallen behind schedule by nearly a month.
The port and fertiliser works' access roads at the Tasman Quay intersection will be closed all weekend to allow rebuilding to take place first on one side of the intersection and then the other. Traffic will continue to flow in single lanes along Hewletts Rd.
Monday will also see traffic flowing for the first time on the widened outside corner of the curve past the fertiliser works, between the old toll plaza and Tasman Quay.
Mr Reid said the pace of construction down Hewletts Rd had made the opening of the flyover last May seem like a distant memory.
And with each stage of construction rolling along in an orderly manner, Mayor Stuart Crosby praised the efforts of Transit and its contractors to minimise disruption to motorists. There had been scarcely any complaints about evening traffic management.
Mr Crosby said it was satisfying to see these badly needed catch-up works happening at long last after planning that stretched back to the mid-1990s.
Work was progressing well on separating a 360m stretch of Hewletts Rd into higher and lower portions to accommodate businesses on the airport side of the road. In an innovative move, the concrete wall and median barrier separating each side of the road was being precast in sections off site. It will allow 60m of wall to be slotted into place each week, starting this week.
Fulton Hogan's project manager Keith Campbell said that throughout the job they had been slowed by finding underground services that they did not know existed or had not been in the expected places.
Mr Reid said roundabouts worked if equal amounts of traffic entered all the legs of the intersection. But where there were uneven flows, as with the Totara St intersection, signals meant the main traffic flow got priority.
Good project liaison and planning meant the construction side of the project had come in about $2m under budget, with no call on contingencies.
Fulton Hogan's contract is worth $12.35m.