Construction is coughing into life on the next stage of the Waikato Expressway, a $150 million four-lane bypass of Ngaruawahia, promising a faster and safer link between Taupiri and Hamilton.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce turned the first symbolic sod of earth yesterday on the 12.3km link, which is due to be open to traffic in just over two years.
It will include a new crossing of the Waikato River south of Horotiu, after which it will join a 7.2km bypass of Hamilton's northern suburb of Te Rapa, which will open next year.
But State Highway 1 will ultimately continue south from the Ngaruawahia link to a new eastern bypass of Hamilton, on the way to Cambridge, where the 95km expressway will end just past that town.
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The Transport Agency expects the expressway, which the Government has promised to complete by 2019 as one of its seven roads of national significance, to cut an average of 32 minutes off trips from Auckland to Cambridge.
Although a bypass of Huntly will ultimately feed into the Ngaruawahia section, the agency expects to complete in about seven weeks a 2.2km link between its alignment and Taupiri.
That includes two roundabouts, one at the existing intersection between SH1 and the eastern route to Hamilton via Gordonton, and the other at a turnoff to Orini. These have been built as elevated structures, to prompt drivers to slow down and look to the right to ensure the road is clear.
The agency says the Taupiri link was brought forward from the main project for safety reasons.
Mr Joyce said that as freight produced in Waikato was predicted to double by 2031, the expressway - which is expected to cost up to $2.1 billion to complete - would give national as well as regional benefits.