The Manawatū-Tararua Highway will come a step closer to reality this weekend when the Walk the New Highway fundraiser is held.
Woodville School and Woodville Lions Club have joined forces to hold the Hīkoi o Te Ahu a Ruranga on Saturday, which will provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk the highway before construction begins.
The idea behind the walk came from Saddle Rd farmers Andrew and Melanie Bolton, whose property will be affected by the construction of the new highway.
Money raised from the walk will go towards upgrading the Woodville School playground and Woodville Lions community projects.
"We saw this as an opportunity for something good to come from the building of the new highway," said Melanie Bolton.
"But we had no idea how to go about organising this so we contacted Woodville Lions. Lions have lost their traditional fundraiser, the Manawatū Gorge Track and Tunnel walk, so they were keen to come on board."
Bolton said the NZ Transport Agency had been amazing and had provided information, assistance and projected images that will be placed at certain points along the way.
"People won't be able to walk the exact route of the new highway but there will be waratahs and cones as well as volunteers guiding people along the way," she said.
There will be 35 marshals across the route and a side-by-side vehicle will be available should anyone require first aid.
There will be two different walks. One is a 7km walk from Cooks Road to Woodville or a 13km walk from Ashhurst to Woodville.
It is estimated the longer walk will take up to three and a half hours and the shorter walk two hours.
Buses will ferry walkers to the start points.
Woodville Lions spokesman Paul Cleghorn says the terrain is uneven but some of the walk will use the Meridian formed road to skirt the deep ravines.
Final figures are not yet available but at this stage around 620 tickets have been sold for the walk with a good mix of locals and visitors signing up for it.
Among those taking part will be Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis who will be accompanied by a large contingent of family members, including her mother, her four daughters, and her aunt and uncle Hawke's Bay.
Collis says her group will be taking part in the 7km walk and to prepare for it she has been out walking every day over the holiday break.
She acknowledged the support of NZTA and said its involvement marked a change in how it operated.
"For me this is quite a significant demonstration of how this project is different to any other project being rolled out by NZTA."
She said clearly NZTA was working with the community.
"It is wonderful that NZTA is allowing people the opportunity to walk the site and to raise money for community projects. This reflects a new style of working together.
"There is no cancellation date for the walk as construction work on the new highway actually starts on Monday."
Collis said it was pleasing to hear the feedback of the organisers about the level of assistance that NZTA had provided.
"NZTA's work with the community on the new highway project is the best it's ever been."
NZTA said work was progressing well. Design activities were progressing and running in parallel with the consenting process work.
More than 30 designers were involved in this part of the project. Their work includes designing the road, bridges, ground engineering, stormwater management, shared use path and cultural and environmental design elements, such as recreational activities and landscaping.
Collis said the highway project provided Tararua District with the biggest growth potential it had experienced in the past 30 years.
"There will be a large number of contractors working in the area which will provide an economic boon to the district as we will have to provide for them."
She saw that evidenced in the high demand for housing, not just in Woodville but in Dannevirke, Pahiatua and even Eketahuna.
She said Tararua District Council, Manawatū District Council and Palmerston North City Council would all benefit from the new highway on a regional level.
But she saw one of the biggest benefits was to the commuters who had the daily trip over the Saddle Rd to get to work.
"For commuters it's a very tiring trip. Even though the road is maintained and the speed limit has been reduced to 60kph it is still very draining for commuters."
Collis is excited about taking part in the walk and the views that it will offer.
"I see this as an exciting opportunity to see part of the new highway. But there will also be some magical photo opportunities. The views are quite majestic."