A long-awaited upgrade to State Highway 1 north of Wellington has moved forward with the award of a major contract.

Detailed design work on the Peka Peka to Otaki stretch of the Kapiti expressway will be undertaken by Opus Consultants, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee announced today.

He said it was a positive step for the project, with construction of the Peka Peka to Otaki section on track to begin in 2016.

The Kapiti expressway is part of the 110km Wellington Northern Corridor project -- a $2.5 billion highway from Levin to Wellington that is part of the Government's roads of national significance programme.


Work on the MacKays to Peka Peka stretch of the expressway has ramped up in recent months, while construction of the 27km Transmission Gully stretch of the corridor is set to begin later this year.

"Wellington has been waiting decades for State Highway 1 to receive the upgrade it so desperately needs, and the last six months has seen serious work get underway," Mr Brownlee said.

"So far this year hundreds of jobs have been created on the Kapiti expressway and nearly a million cubic metres of earth has been moved."

New Zealand Transport Agency Wellington highway manager Rod James said the region was already seeing immediate economic benefits as the expressway gained momentum.

"But the real long-term benefits to the region will be from the vastly improved quality and reliability of State Highway 1 between Otaki and the capital."

Mr James said Opus would spend 12 to 18 months working on the detailed design of the Peka Peka to Otaki stretch.

The design would be used to tender for construction, which is due to start in mid-2016.

The work was expected to bring a further 700 full-time jobs to the region.