A major road through Auckland's industrial belt costing up to $1.8 billion will not only relieve traffic congestion, but revitalise a stretch of coast severely affected by reclamation and landfills.

That is the view of the New Zealand Transport Agency, which opened its case today for the east-west link, connecting State Highway 1 at Sylvia Park to State Highway 20 at Onehunga, costing between $1.25b and $1.85b.

"The east-west link is not a motorway on the coast," a lawyer for NZTA, Patrick Mulligan, told a board of inquiry holding public hearings on the project.

The national road builder has made a big case about the environmental and other benefits that will flow from building the four-lane arterial road along the northern end of the Mangere inlet.

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As well as improvements for freight and general traffic and relieving congestion on local roads, Mulligan said the project would provide 25km of new or upgraded walking and cycle paths between Onehunga and Mt Wellington.

He said the foreshore section of the road had been designed to respect the coastal environment and create a quality urban harbour frontage.

The project provides a platform to transform a coastal environment that has had over 100 years of neglect and to create a renewed sense of place

"The project provides a platform to transform a coastal environment that has had over 100 years of neglect and to create a renewed sense of place," Mulligan said.

The project, he said, had once-in-a-lifetime outcomes for the community, including aspirations for Onehunga Wharf, which NZTA is negotiating to buy from Ports of Auckland.

But in his opening statement, Mulligan lashed out at community groups, saying their approach was to derail the proposal by any means possible.

This was despite the fact community groups clearly recognised the need for an east-west link to address traffic congestion concerns in Onehunga, road connections between the town and the wharf, and frustration with developing the wharf as a community destination, he said.

The Onehunga Enhancement Society (TOES), a vocal critic of the project, has come up with an alternative community plan to address gridlock on local roads and improve access to the waterfront.

TOES is due to address the board of inquiry on Monday next week.

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The board of inquiry, chaired by retired High Court Judge Dr John Priestley, is set to run until August 25.

The board will release a draft decision on October 9. Following comments from submitters on minor or technical matters, the board is due to make a final decision on November 22.

Construction is expected to begin late next year and be completed by 2025.