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Will they ever finish that section of motorway? When will those extra lanes be open? Why is construction taking so long? Bernard Orsman takes a look at the progress of some of our biggest motorway projects.

After what seems like a lifetime, motorists will soon be able to drive 100km from Auckland to Cambridge on a four-lane highway without passing through Hamilton.

No more deciding which route to tackle through local roads, roundabouts and sets of traffic lights. No more Gordonton Rd shortcuts. No more taking the wrong turn and getting lost.

By the end of next year, all seven sections of the $1.6 billion Waikato Expressway are due to be completed, which means when Hamilton approaches, motorists will be able to bypass the city on a new section of highway to the east of the city.

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The Hamilton section, costing $637 million, commences at the Lake Rd junction with the Ngaruawahia section in the north. It then runs south, to the east of Hamilton, where it connects to the Tamahere expressway just south of the city.

From there, it's a nice drive on the Cambridge section of the Waikato Expressway, one of two sections of motorway in New Zealand with a 110km/h speed limit. The other section is the Tauranga east link toll road.

The other two remaining sections due for completion are the Longswamp section between Mercer and Rangiriri, and the Huntly bypass, avoiding the inevitable bottleneck through the Waikato township.

Hamilton Mayor Andrew King is fizzing about the Waikato Expressway and the opportunities for business, industry and residential growth.

Along with the recent announcement of commuter rail between Hamilton and Auckland next year, the expressway would link two of the country's fastest-growing areas and boost communities all along the Waikato River, he said.

Andrew King. Photo / Supplied
Andrew King. Photo / Supplied

"Connecting our thousands of new residents with Auckland and the regions is a key part of our planning for sustainable growth. The expressway is one massive piece of the jigsaw and it's another reason why more and more people are calling Hamilton home," King said.

It's a view shared by local Labour list MP Jamie Strange, who said the expressway and commuter rail will give people a range of transport options to move around the region.

Upgrading SH1 south of the Bombay Hills began in the early 1990s when a two-lane road hugged the banks of the Waikato River and a stretch of highway from the end of the Southern Motorway to just north of Mercer was expanded to four lanes.

Since then various roading improvements have been made between Auckland and Hamilton, but it wasn't until 2009 the remaining seven sections were funded and branded the Waikato Expressway by Transport Minister Steven Joyce as being one of seven "Roads of National Significance".

The Te Rapa bypass was the first section to be opened in December 2012, followed 12 months later by a 12.3km section of the expressway between Taupiri and Horotiu bypassing Ngaruawahia.

The Hamilton to Auckland start-up service will begin in 2020. Photo / File
The Hamilton to Auckland start-up service will begin in 2020. Photo / File

The 16km section between Hamilton and Cambridge opened in 2015 and the Rangiriri section followed in 2017.

This leaves the Longswamp, Huntly and Hamilton sections to be completed.

A 16km extension of the expressway from Cambridge to Piarere has been canned by the new Labour-led Government as it switches focus from new motorways to road safety improvements, including the busy intersection between SH1 and SH29 at Piarere.

National MP for Hamilton East, David Bennett, has lamented the decision, saying it would have benefited the region and provided an important link with Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.

Labour's Nanaia Mahuta, MP for Hauraki-Waikato, has said more money has come from the city to the regions, including $235m to finish the Waikato expressway, including the first section of the Hamilton to Cambridge cycleway.

In the past few months, good progress has been made on the Hamilton section of the expressway, including four lanes of sealed highway at Lake Rd in the north, new bridges across the bush clad Mangaonua and Mangaharakeke gullies and the southern interchange.

It's a similar story on the Huntly western bypass where 3.4m cu m of earthworks are nearing completion, the McVie Rd overbridge has been opened to the public and plans to rid the neighbouring 650ha Taupiri Scientific Reserve of pests and plantings at wetlands and other areas are well advanced.

The extension of the Waikato Expressway to Piarere has been put on hold, with short term safety improvements being prioritised. Photo / File
The extension of the Waikato Expressway to Piarere has been put on hold, with short term safety improvements being prioritised. Photo / File

At Longswamp, communities east and west are now connected with the opening of the Whangamarino Road bridge over the expressway. Construction of the 6.2m-high concrete bridge began in 2017 to take into account the safety of the 20,000-plus vehicles that pass it daily. The contractors are now focused on building the remaining 5.9km of four-lane expressway.

When complete, the Waikato Expressway is expected to reduce travel times from Auckland to Tirau by 35 minutes.

Waikato Expressway: Progress report

Four sections complete

• Rangiriri section of 4.8km. Completed 2017, $125 million

• Ngaruawahia section of 12.3km. Completed December 2013, $160 million

• Te Rapa section of 7.3km. Completed December 2012, $172 million

• Cambridge section of 16km. Completed 2015, $218 million

Still under construction

• Longswamp section of 5.9km. Opens late 2019, $96 million

• Huntly section of 15.2km. Completion early 2020, $409 million

• Hamilton section of 21.8km. Estimated completion late 2020, $637 million


THE SERIES
Tuesday: Auckland and Waikato's $3.2 billion motorway programme
Wednesday: Auckland's motorway misery
Thursday: Waikato Expressway
Friday: Heading North
Saturday: Future projects