The sod was turned at a special ceremony yesterday afternoon to welcome the start of the Whakatu Arterial Link.

Local MPs, councillors, representatives of NZTA, members of Ngati Kahungunu iwi and the Napier and Hastings mayors, gathered to celebrate the road that would transform connections around the key business and employment area of Whakatu.

The project will provide a road between Havelock North, State Highway 2 north, Pakowhai Rd, the Expressway and the Port of Napier.

A council spokeswoman said it would include 3.5km of greenfield construction, 1km of connections to side roads, three large roundabouts and a 47m long bridge over Karamu Stream.

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Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said this was a significant regional project that had been sitting in the pipeline for five years.

"To get it set and under way properly in January is a milestone," Mr Yule said.

Hawke's Bay's slogan "great things grow here" was very fitting, as Tukituki MP Craig Foss said the development would allow more produce to grow and be exported in and around the region from the booming Whakatu industrial area.

"Often people have said it is hard for trucks to get around especially to and from the port, so removing these dangerous intersections will allow produce to flow at an easier and safer rate."

He said this development and the completion of the Prebensen Drive project last year were signs of the barriers coming down, which had previously limited productivity and growth.

"We are investing in the infrastructure that makes things happen."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges also welcomed the start of construction on the Whakatu Arterial Link and the positive affect it will have for Hawke's Bay.

"Whakatu is one of the region's key business and employment areas and the improvement of safety at key intersections will provide a more efficient and safer alternative route for heavy commercial freight traffic between Whakatu and the port."

Mr Bridges said the route would also provide a more efficient route between Havelock North, Hawke's Bay Airport, and Napier's north-western employment and residential areas via the Expressway.

A council spokeswoman said some pre work jobs such as fencing and land clearing had already been done but heavy machinery on the road would not start until January.

"The five-leg roundabout on SH2 near Napier Rd is first up, being built in January. Work on the bridge will also start relatively early in the new year; while the Pakowhai roundabout will be more towards the middle of the project."