There have been nearly 11 million trips made on the Tauranga Eastern Link since it was opened to motorists on August 3, 2015.

But Te Puke leaders and business owners are divided as to how the state highway has affected the town.

Rebecca Larsen, EPIC Te Puke marketing manager, said the combination of a new roading layout and having more service vehicles using the bypass, a safe and attractive shopping experience has been created in Te Puke.

"Since the bypass, we have seen several businesses in town making significant improvements to their businesses and many new exciting arrivals," she said.


Life Pharmacy has had a major interior upgrade, Indian Roots and Street 2 Surf (formerly Vesey's and Don Bayliss) have upgraded their businesses, she said.

"Tony's Cafe has also had a big upgrade, brought in outdoor seating and created a lovely dining atmosphere."

She said new cafes have popped up in town including Marigold Cafe and The Daily, which took out the top prize in the country as Cafe of the year.

"The Aberdeen Christmas Shed has set up an amazing and creative Christmas store with a Grotto and top quality Christmas ornaments and product.

"They now see visitors coming over from Hamilton and Rotorua as word spreads about their business, a true destination shop.''

The downtown area is "really blossoming into a beautiful shopping destination".

"With the main street improvements, I believe we will continue to see more improvement due to the bypass and a pedestrian friendly atmosphere."

Paper Plus Te Puke owner, Stuart Gunn, said it was harder to connect any negatives or positives to the opening of the road.


Mr Gunn said a lot of traffic does drive down the TEL but traffic in the centre of Te Puke does not seem to have abated.

"How much of that TEL traffic would have stopped in Te Puke? No-one knows," he said.

Some locals do complain about parking shortages, so he questioned what the town would look like if the TEL traffic came through and tried to stop in Te Puke as well.

He said if people who live south of Te Puke chose to bypass the town and travel to Tauranga to shop because of the TEL there were extra costs like petrol, time and parking in Tauranga.

But for Te Puke it all comes down to having the retail offering that is relevant to those people who have a choice as to where to go, he said.

"If we have that relevant offering then why would anyone spend an extra 20 mins to get to Tauranga then 20 minutes to find a park and then a further 20 minutes to get back," he said.

Mr Gunn said there has been "considerable recent investment" in Te Puke by some retailers which showed confidence in its retail future.

Another local retailer, Marge Martelletti of Giftrapt, said she has two different viewpoints.

She said the road was helpful when she was in Pāpāmoa or Mount Maunganui and needed to travel to her daughters who lived in Maketū and Paengaroa.

However in her view the bypass has negatively affected the retail sector.

"The expressway has enabled people living the outer areas of Maketū, Paengaroa, Pukehina, Pongakawa to travel to other areas to shop in less travel time.

"Te Puke has taken a hit in the retail sector with the expressway being one factor," she said.

Western Bay mayor Garry Webber said it would be difficult to say how the TEL contributed to the local economy.

He said while there were initial concerns at how the TEL would affect local businesses, life "seems to have continued" and it was great to see large developments adding to the vibrancy of the town.

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said the Tauranga Eastern Link has been an "amazing piece of lead infrastructure".

"A lot of people in Te Puke were worried about it [the road] before it was finished. They thought it might mean their town went dead," Simon says.

But he said the outcome has been the opposite.

"It's given the people their town back, made it more vibrant and more friendly. Te Puke is going from strength to strength and the Tauranga Eastern Link has been a very important contributor to that."

Rob Campbell, NZTA Bay of Plenty transport system manager, said the TEL is "one of the best roads in New Zealand".

A total of 10,712,187 trips have been made on TEL since it opened in 2015.

Mr Campbell said the road supports regional growth so it is no surprise that people are choosing to use it.

"We are encouraged by the high number of vehicles per day using the road and we expect the numbers of travellers to continue to grow."

TEL quick facts
· Nationally significant and the Bay of Plenty's largest roading project
· 21km 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.