The country's newest stretch of state highway - the Tauranga Eastern Link - was officially opened by Prime Minister John Key and Transport Minister Simon Bridges today.
After four and a half years of construction the road is expected to be open to traffic on Monday August 3.
The $455 million NZ Transport Agency project delivers 21 kilometres of four-lane, median divided highway between Tauranga and Paengaroa.
The highway will also provide more predictable travel times, which is critical to business attraction and growth.
Harry Wilson, NZTA's Waikato/Bay of Plenty regional director, said the new road will leave a lasting impression on the Bay of Plenty region, bringing many social benefits and opening up further economic opportunities in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
"The Tauranga Eastern Link has been designed to support the growth of the Bay of Plenty, reduce travel times and improve safety," Mr Wilson said.
"It will be a strong anchor to support managed land use in a planned and sensible progression in this region."
The TEL brings the East Cape and the central North Island closer to the Port of Tauranga.
"The road shaves off around 12 minutes when compared to the old route, which means some freight operators will be able to complete an extra trip each day.
"The new road will also significantly improve safety, reducing the amount of death and serious injury crashes in the region."
The TEL goes from Te Maunga in Tauranga through to the new Paengaroa roundabout, which replaces the former junction of State Highways 2 and 33 (the Rotorua and Whakatane highways).
The project involved 550,000 square metres of new road, more than three million cubic metres of earthworks and saw seven new bridges built. All up there were more than 1.5 million hours worked.
New intersections have been constructed for Sandhurst Dr, Domain Rd, and Paengaroa junction, along with a new overbridge for Parton Rd and underpass for Maketu Rd.
"It was a huge undertaking that is considered one of the most challenging major projects in New Zealand due to the soft ground conditions," said Mr Wilson.
The TEL shares a 6.8 kilometres walking and cycle path, more than 300,000 native plants and two large scale public artworks.
One of the artworks is a 130m long pa sculpture, the largest public art pieces currently on display in New Zealand.
TEL quick facts
· Nationally significant and the Bay of Plenty's largest ever roading project
· 21kms of four lane median-divided highway
· $455 million cost
· 3500 plus inductions onsite (staff numbers peaked at 280 in late 2013)
· 1.5 million hours worked
· 220,000m2 of new road
· 300,000 new native plants
· 3,000,000m3 of earthworks moved
· Six different iwi represented within the project
· 150 farmers consulted for land access
· 92 per cent of the public voted yes to having the road tolled, knowing it would bring construction forward by 10 years.
· Third time lucky - the TEL underwent three name changes: the Te Puke Bypass, the Tauranga Eastern Arterial and finally the Tauranga Eastern Link, when it was recognised as a road of national significance and upgraded to a four lane highway.