Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway project has officially been given the green light for construction, with the main works resource consents granted by the Environment Court.
Owner interface manager Lonnie Dalzell says this is a significant milestone towards delivering the much-needed replacement to the Manawatū Gorge route that's been closed since 2017.
"We're pleased that the consents have been given, and we're looking forward to construction starting in January next year.
"Te Ahu a Tūranga 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 that 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."
Waka Kotahi is holding public information sessions starting this week for people to see the latest animated flyover video and to chat with experts from the team about progress on the project.
Experts from the project whānau will be on-hand with a display of carefully selected plants that will be used throughout the project.
The project expects to plant up to two million plants over the course of construction.
The first drop-in sessions were held on Tuesday and Wednesday last week in Woodville and Dannevirke.
The next drop-in sessions are being held at the Village Valley Centre, November 25, 4pm-6pm, and in the Palmerston North Plaza, December 2, 9am-5pm.
Those who can't make a session but want to keep up with the latest highway news can sign up for email updates on the project website.
More information sessions will be run as the project progresses.
For people planning travel over the Saddle Road over the festive period, check the Waka Kotahi Facebook page for traffic updates.
Waka Kotahi would also like to advise people of changes to the current western Manawatū Gorge car park.
A temporary car park will be created to be accessed from SH3 Napier Rd.
The current car park is needed as a base for construction of the project's bridge over the Manawatū River.
This will be of similar size to the existing car park (about 3500sq m) and, weather-permitting, Waka Kotahi aims to have it open by the end of November.
The existing car park will be closed at that time.
The temporary car park will be in place until the bridge is completed and the site cleared in 2024.
The new car park and gateway will then be reopened for public use.