Newmarket businesspeople and commuters should have easier lives from today with the completion of the last of three replacement bridges carrying road traffic over upgraded railway lines.
Weather permitting, KiwiRail intends opening the new bridge on Khyber Pass Rd to four lanes of vehicles at 6am after 17 months of traffic restrictions.
Although three lanes have stayed open most of the time while the former bridge was replaced with a longer and thinner version needed to duplicate the western railway line beneath it and give new electric trains extra height clearance, the work caused serious peak-hour traffic jams.
Khyber Pass Rd's is the third replacement bridge built in a $154 million upgrade of the Newmarket railway junction and the section of the western line out to Boston Rd.
Bridges on neighbouring Park Rd and at the Newmarket end of Remuera Rd opened in November, easing a tight squeeze on a retail district battling the recession.
Newmarket Business Association Cameron Brewer said congestion caused by infrastructure development had been a serious challenge in such tough times, and the restoration of normal traffic flows to Khyber Pass Rd would put retailers in a better position to be part of the economic recovery.
The Khyber Pass and Park Rd bridge replacements were needed to widen the rail corridor beneath, from 5m to 13m.
Trains will stop from April 11 at the new Grafton Station, built under and between the two bridges.
KiwiRail has started laying duplicate tracks below the two new bridges, but will leave the connection of upgraded signals until Easter, when the western railway line and parts of the southern line will close over the holiday weekend to allow construction and maintenance activities.
Mr Brewer said the restoration of Khyber Pass Rd should also ease congestion on Newmarket's motorway viaduct, where a 70km/h temporary speed restriction is in force while the structure is replaced in stages for $210 million.
He is one of many commuters who have been using the viaduct to get to work, rather than face slow-moving queues along Khyber Pass Rd.
Jansen Professional Audio and Lighting general manager Warren Singleton, whose headquarters and retail outlet are next to the new bridge, blames the replacement project for job losses.
He said the business had to more than halve its Newmarket staff over the past two years, from 25 to 12, because of the recession - compounded by access problems caused by the construction project.
It was difficult to say how many staff would have been laid off in normal circumstances, but he believed that without the interrupted business from the project he could have saved some jobs.
KiwiRail's acting director for Auckland's $600 million basic rail upgrade, Peter King, is thanking business and residential neighbours of the construction site "for their considerable patience while the project was carried out".
"We know it hasn't been easy living on the doorstep of such a major engineering project and their tolerance is hugely appreciated," he said.
Contractors had had to blast their way through volcanic rock, making progress extremely slow at times.
Even now, Newmarket is not yet entirely clear of traffic disruption.
The Transport Agency has been partly closing a northern section of main street Broadway at night to allow overhead construction of the replacement motorway viaduct and plans a full closure from 10pm tonight while a large bridge section is lifted into place.
* The new bridge on Khyber Pass Rd is to be opened to four lanes today.
* It is the third replacement bridge built in a $154 million upgrade.
* KiwiRail has started laying duplicate tracks below the new bridges, but will leave the connection of upgraded signals until Easter.