A motorway from Auckland to Whangarei has been flagged by Transport Minister Simon Bridges.
Speaking at today's sod turning to mark the start of the $709.5 million Puhoi to Warkworth motorway, Bridges said over time the motorway would extend to Whangarei, a distance of 162km.
Prime Minister John Key and Bridges turned the first sod during a tour of roading projects north of Auckland, including a new roundabout in the township of Waimaukau.
Bridges said the Government had pledged to build a four-lane road of national significance from Puhoi to Wellsford and the entire corridor to Whangarei was very important.
"A lot of people talk about the Brynderwyns and the need for a very strong solution there.
"You have got Northport up closer to Whangarei, which is again justification for doing a much more significant job all the way.
"Whether that's to road of national significance standard or something different to that I couldn't say at the moment ... but as Transport Minister I'm very attracted to progress more significant road improvements, not just through to Wellsford but up to Whangarei," Bridges said.
He said realistically it was not five or six years away, but probably a decade of more away. New Zealand Transport Agency chairman Chris Moller said the agency was looking at the Whangarei to Auckland connection but a motorway could be 30 years away.
The Puhoi to Warkworth motorway extends 18.5km over difficult terrain from the Johnstone Hills tunnels just south of Puhoi to just north of Warkworth.
Critics have nicknamed it the "holiday highway" to the intense annoyance of Northland leaders.
The new motorway will have two lanes in each direction divided by a central median with a safety barrier.
Both Bridges and Rodney MP Mark Mitchell stressed the safety benefits of the new motorway.
Said Mitchell: "Safety is definitely a No 1 concern. Unfortunately the piece of road we have to use at the moment comes with hazards and we have too many serious injuries and fatal accidents on that piece of road."
The project is the second public private partnership (PPP) for a state highway, after the Transmission Gully motorway in Wellington.
Under the latest PPP, the Northern Express Group will finance, design, construct, manage and maintain the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway for the 25 years following a five-year build.
The motorway is due for completion in 2021.
Incentives built into the contract will ensure the motorway is one of the safest in New Zealand with lower grades and be more resilient to natural disasters and road closures.
Bridges said a decision had not been made on whether to toll the new Puhoi to Warkworth motorway.
Route protection of the next stage of the motorway from Warkworth to Wellsford is underway. The NZ Transport Agency is planning to release an indicative route early next year.
The Automobile Association is delighted that construction is officially underway on the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway extension.
"Many people from outside Northland don't understand what a vital step forward this is for us," AA Northland District Chairman Steve Westgate said.
"It's not just about safer, quicker and more reliable journeys, it's about the economic opportunities that come with it. This project will improve our connections with Auckland, New Zealand and the world."