Tolls will temporarily be waived on the Tauranga Eastern Link during the afternoon rush starting next week to ease congestion during works near the Te Puke Highway.
The highway, near Pah Rd, will be reduced to one lane for three weeks from May 16 as work continues on stabilising the bank of the Kaituna River to minimise erosion and preserve indigenous fish, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said in a statement.
The works coincide with the busy kiwifruit harvest season, and for this reason, the agency said it had approval to remove the toll on the Tauranga Eastern Link to ease congestion on the highway.
The toll waiver will be in place for westbound traffic only from May 16 to June 3 between 4pm and 7pm weekdays.
Agency regional manager of infrastructure delivery, Jo Wilton, said work had progressed since October on stabilising the riverbank opposite Tuhourangi Marae with the next step the installation of 50 steel sheet piles.
"We understand this is an extremely busy time for kiwifruit harvest and we have looked into every possible option to delay this work, but the site can't be left exposed over winter or there is a risk the road will slip away.
"Due to the weight of the crane being used for the sheet piling, it must be set back at least 6m from the riverbank otherwise it could cause significant damage. So, for safety reasons, we need to close a lane to allow extra space for the crane," Wilton said.
Soil anchors and sheet piles will reinforce the river's edge. Fifty-two anchors have already been drilled 15m below the highway. The next step is constructing a 42m long retaining wall using more than 50 steel sheet piles, each 20m deep.
These will be driven vertically into the bank, back from the river's edge.
Te Puke Highway is already experiencing significant travel delays in late afternoon and early evening and for around three weeks there will be a lane closed past the site and manual stop/go in place.
The agency was working with Tapuika, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated to make the road safer and develop a solution for the Te Puke community.
"The stop/go team will actively monitor traffic, especially between 4pm and 7pm and outside of these hours traffic lights will be in place," Wilton said.
"With shift workers from orchards and packhouses on their commute home, as well as trucks hauling freshly picked fruit from orchards to the packhouses, we're expecting significant delays.
"The alternative route is the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Rd and for the duration of the lane closure, we have approval to remove the toll on the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Rd westbound lanes, heading towards Tauranga, while this work is under way, between 4pm and 7pm weekdays," Wilton said.
Western Bay of Plenty District Council deputy chief executive Gary Allis said it was great everyone working together had produced a solution during the kiwifruit harvest.
"The waiving of tolls on the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Rd in the afternoon will make a significant difference during peak traffic time by providing people an alternative route.
"This is a good outcome and the delay to the start of the works by a few weeks has also lowered the levels of disruption during the kiwifruit harvest."
The toll-free period is to encourage anyone travelling towards Tauranga to use the toll road, by trying to reduce traffic and pressure on the Te Puke Highway.
NZ Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated chief executive officer, Colin Bond said while its preference was to have no disruption to roads throughout the busy harvest season, it appreciated the toll-free period offered by Waka Kotahi to help mitigate any delays.
People travelling on the Te Puke Highway are asked to take extra care when travelling through the site by following the temporary 30km/h speed limit, traffic management and directions from staff.
- The toll free period will run from May 16 to June 3 for westbound traffic only, between 4pm and 7pm, Monday to Friday, while the stop/go is in place on the Te Puke Highway.