Travellers on the Waikato Expressway will soon be able to skip the traffic in Hamilton as the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway is set to be completed at the end of 2021.
It will bring to the end of a project that started in the 1990s, and will cut travel time between Cambridge and the Bombays by 35 minutes.
The completion of the 21.8km, $607 million Hamilton bypass will also mean that from Auckland to Cambridge there will be a four lane highway for the complete journey, with the roads also capable of the 110km/h speed limit that is already in action on the Cambridge section of the expressway, although whether the new roads will have the same limits remains to be seen.
The Te Rapa bypass was the first section to be opened, in December 2012, followed 12 months later by a 12.3km section between Taupiri and Horotiu bypassing Ngaruawahia.
The 16km section between Hamilton and Cambridge opened in 2015 and the Rangiriri section followed in 2017.
Early this year, the 6km Longswamp section from Hampton Downs to Rangiriri opened, followed by the 15km Huntly bypass, east of the town and over the Taupiri Range, which is sacred to Waikato-Tainui Māori.
The future of the project previously came under criticism from National list MP David Bennett, who said the project should have continued with the Cambridge to Piarere extension, however under the current Government there has only been plans to build a roundabout at the SH1 and SH29 intersection.
Bennett said it was National's overall plan to have the four lane expressway extend to Piarere before further plans for another four lane highway to the foot of the Kaimai Ranges heading to Tauranga.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency acting delivery project delivery manager Jo Wilton told the NZ Herald all but one of the structures for the Hamilton section - 17 bridges and five interchanges - have been built. Only an underpass at Powells Rd is still under construction.
The bulk of earthworks have been completed, said Wilton, whose role covers Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. Over the next 12 months, the alliance building the expressway will focus on finishing the pavement and surfacing to open in late 2021.
The opening date was put back 12 months after three cyclones over summer 2017 restricted the earthworks season.
"This had a significant impact on our programme and our productivity. We had a lot of guys sitting in lunchrooms looking outside going 'I can't work'," she says.
When motorists get to drive on the new expressway, says Wilton, there will be five interchanges allowing access to Hamilton, new housing subdivisions and rural areas.
On the environmental front, the borders and gullies along the route will be planted with 600,000 native and exotic plants.
Ten hectares of streams and gullies on the city fringe that are significant to residents and tangata whenua will be restored, says Wilton.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate told the NZ Herald that completion of the Waikato Expressway will be key to unlocking economic activity and population growth on the east of the city.
"In the coming years investment on the eastern side of Hamilton will mean thousands of new jobs, better freight and transport connections and, importantly, more housing, including affordable housing," she said.
The Hamilton expressway links with Tainui Group Holdings' development of the Ruakura Superhub, comprising the 30ha Ruakura inland port and a logistics and industrial precinct expected to create between 6000 and 12,000 jobs.
In October, the project was brought forward by a $40m government funding package.
"Easy access to the expressway and other freight and commuter connections mean more efficient transport, safer travel and a reduced carbon footprint for consumer goods," said Southgate.
"Hamilton is an incredibly important logistics hub at the centre of a freight and distribution sector critical to New Zealand.
"The Golden Triangle between Auckland and Tauranga generates 52 per cent of the national GDP so transport connections, including the expressway, are vital not just to our city, but to the country," she said.
- Additional reporting NZ Herald