Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians will gain free passage from this morning across Takapuna's motorway interchange, which Transit NZ has just finished upgrading for $44 million.
Local traffic will for the first time since the Northern Motorway reached Takapuna 40 years ago be able to cross the Esmonde Rd interchange, from east to west, over a buses-only tunnel to be opened in nine months as part of the $295 million Northern Busway.
Although vehicles were previously able to travel in the reverse direction, North Shore Mayor George Wood said at an opening ceremony yesterday that the motorway had long stood as a barrier between Takapuna and Northcote.
"This is not just about building roads - it's about connecting communities and making our city a better place to live," he said.
"Now it will be easy for people to move east or west between these two town centres, and not just by car."
Prime Minister Helen Clark, who attended the ceremony with Transport Minister Annette King, said it was "amazing" that North Shore people had tolerated being without such a link for so long.
"It has been like a great divide across the city," she said, before declaring the interchange open in its full glory, with the addition of two northbound on-ramps and a southbound off-ramp as well as twin bridges to carry traffic over it in both directions.
Two on-ramps will be available to northbound traffic from Esmonde Rd from 5am today, one for motorists reaching the interchange from Takapuna, and the other for those joining it from Akoranga Drive. A fourth northbound lane has been added to the motorway between Esmonde Rd and Northcote Rd as part of the $44 million interchange upgrade.
Cyclists and pedestrians will be able to cross the interchange on a shared pathway on the northern side, as Transit completes an enclosed footbridge about 200m away for students to walk between the university and a bus station being built to the east of the motorway.
Without disclosing any Budget secrets, such as whether the Government will give the green light to electrifying the region's groaning rail network, Helen Clark promised "much more to come as we invest to make Auckland move the way a world-class international city should".
The upgraded interchange is crucial to the busway project, because it will be used to channel northbound buses across the motorway to the new Akoranga station from a new shoulder lane being built between Stafford Rd and Esmonde Rd.
Buses will have their own two-lane busway between the Akoranga station and Constellation Drive, but the tunnel under the interchange will carry only southbound services en route to the Harbour Bridge.
Transit acting chairman Bryan Jackson noted that the Northern Express bus service which began in late 2005 in preparation for the busway was about to celebrate carrying its millionth passenger.
He praised a collaboration on the busway between Transit, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, Auckland City Council, and North Shore City Council, which is sharing an $82.5 million bill for building five bus stations with Land Transport NZ and former regional funding agency Infrastructure Auckland.
North Shore is also spending about $10 million on local roading improvements associated with the interchange and Akoranga bus station.
* The $44 million Esmonde Rd interchange is the third costly motorway project opened in Auckland in five months.
* The others were Transit's $207.5 million refit of Spaghetti Junction and its completion with Manukau City Council of a $74 million link between East Tamaki's new Highbrook industrial park and State Highway 1.