A highway widening project on a stretch of State Highway 2 through an area of "cultural significance" near Tangoio will be closely monitored for potential significant discoveries and to ensure any such discoveries are treated respectfully and appropriately.
Heritage New Zealand and archeologist Elizabeth Pishief will work with the New Zealand Transport Agency and the Maungaharuru-Tangitu Trust on the project which is another stage of a $24 million safety improvements programme which covers the SH2 corridor from Waipukurau up to Wairoa.
The construction site at Te Pa-o-Toi is on a hill which is the site of one of the local hapu's oldest pa.
On Monday a karakia delivered by kaumatua Bevan Taylor of the Maungaharuru Trust was held to mark the start of the widening construction programme. Because the area is culturally significant the NZTA has partnered with the trust for it to be carried out.
"It's important to the transport agency that our construction activities are undertaken in an environmentally and socially responsible manner," NZTA project manager Rob Partridge said.
"We will be working closely with the trust and Heritage New Zealand to protect the historic and cultural heritage of the site, while also ensuring we deliver a safer road for all road users."
James Lyver, kaiwhakahaere matua (general manager) of the trust, said they were pleased to be partnering with the NZTA to protect their wāhi taonga from further damage during works. "We acknowledge the proactive approach taken by Waka Kotahi (NZTA) and the respect shown — we are supportive of making this road safer for everyone and having kaumātua onsite for the duration of the construction is meaningful for us."
The northern stretch of SH2 where work is being carried out has been a strong focus for the NZTA. Figures show 21 people died and 56 were seriously injured on the highway between Bay View and Wairoa in the 10 years up to 2015.
"Most of these crashes happened when drivers lost control and drove off the road or crossed the centreline and hit an oncoming vehicles," an NZTA spokesperson said.
"Around 2000 vehicles travel the entire 104km stretch each day with up to 9000 using the Bay View end.
"This road is an important route for locals, freight and tourists so we are making the improvements to make it safer for everyone."
NZTA are creating wider sealed shoulders to the highway, rumble strips to warn drivers to stay in their lane, roadside barriers and a wide centreline in some areas to keep traffic apart and reduce the risk of head-on crashes.
The Tangoio area widening programme is expected to take about a month.