By Sue Emeny
The Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway project has officially been given the green light for construction.
Tararua residents attending a public information session held by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency in Dannevirke on Wednesday heard that the main works resource consents had been granted by the Environment Court.
Waka Kotahi owner interface manager Lonnie Dalzell said he was pleased to learn of the decision.
"This is a significant milestone towards delivering the much-needed replacement to the Manawatū Gorge route that's been closed since 2017, and we're looking forward to construction starting in January.
"Te Ahu a Turanga will restore a crucial link that supports the needs of our communities, travellers and businesses across the North Island. The new road will be safe, resilient and efficient for all users, and will have a separated, shared path for walkers and cyclists.
"It will also help boost our local economy, and create and support jobs. We are currently recruiting people to fill a range of roles including drivers, operators, carpenters, labourers and team leaders, and expect a large proportion of people employed on the project will be from within the region.
"There will be a big focus on protecting the environment as much as possible and we'll be working closely with iwi, local government and other key partners to ensure a positive environmental and cultural legacy," Dalzell said.
Wednesday's information session at the Dannevirke Sports Centre was an opportunity for people to see the latest animated flyover video and talk to members of the team about the project's progress.
In the focal point of the show, people had the opportunity to virtually drive the highway from both directions. It allowed the "driver" to stop at one of the three lookout points and gave a clear perspective of the size of some of the massive cuts that will be carved out during the highway's construction.
Dalzell said the drive-the-highway feature would be taken out to the community in the regular information sessions that are held and would be set up in the reception area of the site office.
The site office opened last week at the western end of the highway alignment near Ashhurst. It will house up to 100 members of the Te Ahu a Turanga Alliance team and operate as the project's administrative hub until the road is completed at the end of 2024.
Ecologist David Pickett was on hand at the Dannevirke information session with a display of carefully selected plants that will be used in the project, which is expected to involve up to two million plants over the course of construction.
"The intention is the enhance the environment for the creatures that live there where we can," Dalzell said.
"There is a diverse range of bird species living in the area with kererū, tui, silvereyes, grey warblers, shining cuckoos and kārearea - the at-risk New Zealand falcon."
The ecological mitigation plan has three elements: pest control, terrestrial planting and riparian plantings. Rather than having pockets of plantings spread over the whole area, these were being concentrated around the eco-viaduct area and Department of Conservation reserve.