The first part of the design and construction contract has been awarded for stage one of the Takitimu North Link (TNL).
And construction on the $933 million roading project north of Tauranga is expected to begin later this year.
Transport Minister Michael Wood says the milestone is a sign the Government is delivering on a promised project, but National MP Simon Bridges says, in his view, the Government should be embarrassed, not boasting.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said in a statement it had awarded the contracts for the project - formally known as the Tauranga Northern Link - to Fulton Hogan and HEB.
The 14km road is a new four-lane expressway between Tauranga and Ōmokoroa with a shared path for walking and cycling, providing an alternative to State Highway 2.
Waka Kotahi system design national manager Robyn Elston said the announcement was a significant commitment and step forward for the project.
"We know it will be welcome news for the western Bay of Plenty community, which has been supportive of this project for some time.
"Awarding the contract in this way enables the design to get under way while property negotiations are still being completed. Subject to this, construction for stage one is expected to start later this year."
He said Fulton Hogan and HEB had a wealth of experience in building major roading infrastructure, having designed and constructed the Tauranga Eastern Link and the Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway.
They are also working on Te Ahu a Turanga (Manawatū Tararua Highway).
"The community can expect to see some preparatory activities on-site, with geotechnical investigations due to get under way across the project length starting this week.
"The Waka Kotahi project team will be working with the contractors to develop detailed designs for the interchange at Minden Rd, a new bridge crossing the Wairoa awa (river), an underpass at Cambridge Rd and Wairoa Rd, and a new connection from Fifteenth Ave to the Takitimu Dr toll road," she said.
Project director of the joint venture, Tony Gallagher, said his team was delighted to start the project and partner with mana whenua alongside Waka Kotahi.
"We know the community is excited to see this progress after many years of planning."
Transport Minister Michael Wood said the announcement was a sign the Government was delivering on a promised project.
He claimed the project was one the Opposition "only ever talked about".
"Investing in infrastructure like Takitimu North Link is a key part of our economic recovery plan," he said.
The contract was an important milestone for Labour's NZ Upgrade Programme which is investing $6.8 billion in road, public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to improve travel choices, save lives and boost productivity in growth areas.
"The NZ Upgrade Programme is creating jobs around the country, with 13 transport projects in construction and around 800 people [nationally] already working on the programme."
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges disagreed with Wood regarding the TNL.
"We're at the exact stage they are now crowing about – awarding the contract - in 2018 after the NZTA board, while I was minister, signed off on the project in 2016," Bridges said.
"As a result of these acts by National it was for construction starting October 2018 but, tragically, Labour cancelled the contracting process it is now making such a song and dance about."
He said the TNL could now be on its way to completion, but as a result of the delay would be more expensive, take longer, and more people would die or be seriously injured on "dangerous" State Highway 2.
In his view: "Rather than boasting, Labour should be embarrassed."
The Government confirmed the $933m in funding for the project in January 2020 and initially said stage one construction would begin by the end of the year, but that was later moved back to late 2021.
Stage two was expected to start in 2024 and finish in 2028.
Waka Kotahi said the Takitimu North Link project will support urban growth in the Western Bay of Plenty and is a key part of the region's connected centres programme developed by the Urban Form and Transport Initiative.
State Highway 2 is a busy highway with a poor safety record and the pressures of this have been felt in this community for some time, Elston said.
"This section of state highway between Waihī and Tauranga has developed into a busy commuter and freight route as well as an important tourist link for the northern Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Peninsula.
"It is also one of New Zealand's highest-risk rural roads."
Western Bay of Plenty communities were projected to grow by 16,000 people in the next 20 years, with traffic crossing the Wairoa Bridge increasing from 20,000 to more than 30,000 daily by 2031.
• There is an opportunity to speak to the project team at the Tauriko for Tomorrow pop-up at Tauranga Crossing from May 12 to May 16.