Clogs of dirt have started to move on the new Ōtaki to north of Levin highway as ground testing begins.

For many residents in Horowhenua, the new road can't come soon enough. The existing State Highway route (SH1) south of Levin ranks in the top 2 per cent of high-risk corridors in New Zealand.

With no current alternative route when SH1 is closed by crashes or weather-related events, the new highway will provide a detour route in the state highway network.

Construction itself on the new highway was expected to start in 2025.

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The Ōtaki to north of Levin highway project is part of the Government's New Zealand Upgrade Programme, a $6.8 billion investment in roads and rail to save lives and boost post-Covid-19 productivity.

The NZ Upgrade Programme will spend $817 million on the new 24km highway, which will be built to the east of the existing State Highway 1.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency director of regional relationships Emma Speight said ground investigations on the new highway were under way. Drilling rigs were on site last week to begin testing ground conditions.

Drilling rigs are testing ground conditions ahead of work on the new Ōtaki Levin highway.
Drilling rigs are testing ground conditions ahead of work on the new Ōtaki Levin highway.

"What we learn about ground conditions will be considered alongside aspects such as local ecology, historical sites and effects on community as we explore options for the location of the new road within the 300m corridor," she said.

"We look forward to providing the community with an update on the investigation and design work in the next few months, and hearing their feedback before designs are refined."

The new highway will be built between Taylors Rd north of Ōtaki, linking with the expressway, and ending just north of Levin, where the highway branches to head further north and west towards Palmerston North.

"The new highway and shared path will make travel between Ōtaki to Levin safer and less susceptible to disruption. It will also increase transport choices and enable economic growth in the region," she said.

Speight said the new four-lane corridor will improve safety and access, support economic growth, provide greater route resilience, and better access to walking and cycling facilities.

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The project includes a separated shared path for walking and cycling running the entire length of the new highway.

It will link into shared path facilities built as part of the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway and Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway, helping extend the region's cycleway.

Most importantly, the new four-lane O2NL will help save lives and reduce serious injuries. These projects will also build greater resilience into the transport system by reducing the number and severity of crashes and road closures, she said.

"Safety is a major issue in this corridor and, in the shorter term, safety initiatives on the existing highway are also being progressed."