More than 2.3 million vehicles have travelled on the Tauranga Eastern Link since it opened a year ago - close to 40 per cent more than predicted.
And Bay leaders say the success of the toll road, which opened a year ago today, has also provided a major boost to neighbouring rural communities.
The 21km four-lane TEL highway was the Bay of Plenty's biggest roading project with seven bridges, the country's biggest roundabout and a 6.8km cycleway.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges told the Bay of Plenty Times it was one seven roads of national significance identified by the Government as being crucial to building New Zealand's economy.
"The $455 million road is a key regional highway connecting Tauranga with the Eastern Bay of Plenty. One year after its completion, the benefits of this investment are obvious. On average 8000 vehicles travel on the new highway every day, a total of more than 2.3 million so far. This far exceeds our expectation."
The highway was designed to open up this region, help grow industry and jobs, improve safety and support economic development and growth, Mr Bridges said.
"A year ago today I described the TEL as a game changer and that is certainly proving to be the case."
Paengaroa Community Association chairwoman Linda Ross agreed, saying the highway had been "an absolute bonus for us and we are really thrilled".
"It has most definitely given the village a boost."
Former chairman John Fowler said the TEL allowed easier access to Tauranga and Papamoa.
"In my view, it has been great opening up the road which is safer to travel on and as predicted it has made Paengaroa a more desirable place to live.
"We need to open up more sections out here to create a bigger satellite community and at this stage that is not happening until more infrastructure is in place."
The cylceway was another attraction and a small working group had been formed that wanted it to connect with the Rotorua cycleway, he said.
Pukehina Beach Ratepayers Association chairman John Cook said the TEL had resulted in an increase in people and young families moving to the area.
"I think the access to Tauranga has made a huge difference ...I think the downstream benefits haven't really materialised yet but they will...and then you get the subsequent benefits in services out here so that is going to add real value."
Maketu Community Board chairman Shane Beech said there had been an influx of people looking to move into the area because of the shorter distance to travel for work.
Te Puke Events and Promotions group chairwoman Sue Peat said people were concerned when the TEL opened because it bypassed the town but "it has turned out to be a positive".
Tomorrow night the group would roll out a new brand and several events that were in the pipeline to the public, she said.
"There seems to be a real buzz in town with more people shopping."
Papamoa Progressive Association vice chairman Ron Melville said Papamoa said the road made it more feasible for people to live in Paengaroa, Pukehina and Maketu.
"That is enabling people to opt to live in these more affordable areas. But one thing that the TEL could do with is bigger and bolder signage indicating Papamoa."
Western Bay of Plenty District mayor Ross Paterson said the TEL was completed prior to the economic surge and "it's fulfilling a need admirably".
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said an interchange would be developed "in the not too distant future" onto the TEL for Papamoa East.
An exact date had not been determined "but what we do know with the rapid growth it will be sooner rather than later and our staff has been in discussions with NZTA on the design, costings and timeline".
Speed still a problem
The Tauranga Eastern Link has the highest safety level rating in New Zealand but police say there is still an issue with speeding drivers and cameras will be introduced to catch offenders.
Western Bay of Plenty acting head of road policing Sergeant Wayne Hunter said it was not unusual "to have vehicles doing 160kms" and he clocked a motorbike rider at 235kms two weeks ago but was unable to get him "because I was going the other way".
"And when they get stopped they say 'oh it's a safe road' but it's not going to be road that is going to kill them it's driver error."
Mr Hunter said the police was waiting on approval for a mobile speed camera for the TEL and in the last two months he was aware of two motorists that were reported for driving the wrong way.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the new highway replaced a stretch of State Highway 2 that was ranked fourth most dangerous in the country in terms of crashes.
It now has a five star safety rating, the highest in New Zealand, he said.
"In the five years before the Tauranga Eastern Link opened, there were seven fatalities and 37 serious injuries. In the year since it has opened, there have been zero fatalities and only two serious injuries," Mr Bridges said.
"That means in simple terms if drivers play their part no one will ever die on this road."
But it had not been plain sailing and the NZTA and police had learnt a bit, he said.
"We have seen the wrong way drivers for example and as a result of that there has been a series of safety improvements and changes."