Marking a year of Harbour Link

It has pulled two communities closer together. It has boosted the Bay's economy.
And for former Mount Maunganui Mayor Noel Pope, the completion of the mammoth Harbour Link one year ago - a project he has poured so much of his life into - has meant he can "die happy".
Today is the first anniversary of the opening of Harbour Link, which with its continous four-lane expressway between Takitimu Drive and Hewletts Rd has halved the travel time between Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.
Four men who had much to reflect on that day, December 18, 2009, this week gathered at Harbour Link's centrepiece - the Chapel St viaduct - to look back on the historic project.
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby helped to officially open the completed network, Mr Pope and former Mount Maunganui Mayor Wayne Moultrie led their councils through crucial talks with their Tauranga counterparts in the 1980s toward the first bridge, while Rod James, the Transport Agency's state highway manager, has this year watched the dramatic changes that have rippled across the city's transport network as a result of the link.
By the time Mr Pope became involved in the 1970s there had already been decades of discussion about a road bridge to straddle the harbour.
As far back as 1920, contractors building the Matapihi railway bridge suggested adding a road bridge for an extra £5000 - but the Tauranga City Council and the Tauranga Borough Council declined the offer.
Further suggestions for a road bridge were made in 1937, 1948 and 1964, the latter setting the ball rolling for a series of proposals and objections.
In the 1970s, the Tauranga City Council and the Mount Maunganui Borough Council joined forces through legislation they had specially sought for bridge building but height requirements still threatened to delay the bridge indefinitely.


Ongoing debate about how much each council should contribute was also a bone of contention, and Mr Pope believed it was the Bay of Plenty Harbour Board's agreement to partner with Tauranga and Mount Maunganui and meet half of any future losses and loan-raising that finally made the bridge viable. Work on the first two-lane bridge, contracted to Fletcher Construction for $13.6 million, kicked off on April 14, 1986, and just under two years later on March 13, 1988, more than 20,000 people streamed across.
But even at that time it was suggested the need to double the bridge's capacity would soon be evident, as was shown by the swelling of traffic volume from 10,000 vehicles each day in 1988 to nearly 30,000 in 2001.
The accepted capacity of 40,000 was reached in 2003, with the bridge just 15 years old - the pressure was on for a duplicate by its 21st anniversary.
Engineers carved what was dubbed Harbour Link into two stages - the first being the four-laning of Hewletts Rd between 2006 and 2007 and the second, the building of the second bridge and the viaduct, starting in July 2007.
The entire $225 million Harbour Link project swallowed the equivalent of 65 rugby fields of hot mix surfacing, 6000 truck loads of concrete and 3500 tonnes of steel.
The feat won the country's top roading award this year, with judges commenting that the partnership between the Transport Agency, Beca and Fletcher Construction was executed excellently, under budget and three months ahead of schedule. They noted how it stood out due to detail in its planning, the way risks were identified and managed and the precision of the operation.
And by the time that award was announced in October, Harbour Link had also been recognised with awards for public relations, health and safety practices, use of concrete and business sustainability.
Mr Crosby said the city was fortunate to have had already a blueprint for Harbour Link in the Strategic Roading Network Plan, instigated by Mr Pope.
Good, strong representation from the Transport Agency saw the speed of decision-making increase dramatically, as did the collaborative Access committee of the agency and the Western Bay's three councils, he said.
"I think it was having people here on the ground who knew what was happening that got things done."
Mr James, who worked on Harbour Link as a consultant before joining the Transport Agency, said the bridge had been "fantastic" for Tauranga.
"On average, the trip between Mount Maunganui and Tauranga now takes eight minutes compared with 16 minutes in 2006.
"Additionally, time taken to travel to the CBD from the Welcome Bay direction on the Hairini corridor has also reduced by 50 per cent."
The travelling time Harbour Link has slashed from city bus routes has also seen some buses waiting at stops for up to 15 minutes, prompting the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to look at cutting two vehicles from its fleet come February.
Priority One chief executive Andrew Coker said although Harbour Link's economic impact on the region over the past year could not be quantified, it was "fairly obvious" it had boosted productivity.
"Harbour Link has played a major part in advancing our productivity. Through easing access for commuters it has increased the desirability of Tauranga for businesses and skilled people."
But for Mr Pope, Harbour Link was a reality that for too many years had been just a vision.
"I could happily die now. I feel lucky that I've lived long enough to see the vision become a reality."
Pictured (from left), are former Mount Maunganui Mayor Wayne Moultrie, Transport Agency state highway manager Rod James, Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby and former Tauranga Mayor Noel Pope. Photo: Joel Ford. Bay of Plenty Times.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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