The Cambridge section of the Waikato Expressway was officially opened on Tuesday and the public will be able to use it for the first time from Wednesday. It runs between Tamahere to just south of Cambridge, passing over eight bridges, including the imposing Karapiro Gully Viaduct.
The tidy tree-lined streets of Cambridge will become a lot less congested from next week when thousands of rumbling trucks and cars get funnelled on to the Waikato Expressway.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges will cut the ribbon on the $250 million Cambridge section on Tuesday, marking the conclusion of a project first pitched some 50 years ago. It was finished six months ahead of schedule.
The expressway will cut peak-hour travel times between Cambridge and Hamilton by 10 minutes.
The expressway runs between Tamahere and just south of Cambridge, passing over eight bridges, including the imposing Karapiro Gully Viaduct.
Cambridge Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tania Witheford said the opening of the 16km stretch of highway heralds an exciting new chapter for the town.
Shifting 10,000 vehicles a day on to the expressway will allow Cambridge to reclaim the bit severed by State Highway 1.
"We view this as an extremely positive opportunity for Cambridge to embrace the top part of our CBD, which at the moment is so difficult to traverse safely because of the traffic flow," Witheford said.
Cambridge is a recognised destination town and plays host to a range of cultural and sporting events.
However, it is important the town maintains and improves its profile through good roading signs and an online presence, Witheford said.
A new website, LoveCambridge.co.nz, has been launched to promote shops and attractions.
"People have been cautious, to say the least, because it's an unknown. But that said, the mood has been extremely positive and businesses are really looking forward to the opportunities, more so than anyone being negative. They just can't wait for it to be completed." Witheford said.
Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest said the new expressway section will have an immediate and dramatic effect on Cambridge.
"The growth rate in Cambridge is phenomenal, so I'm confident the loss of the thru traffic will be offset by the desirability of living in Cambridge," he said.
For more than 40 years, Cambridge beef farmers Bruce and Glenys Miller have lived in the shadow of the expressway project.
The Cambridge section was first envisaged in the 1960s and its original route designated in 1973.
The expressway now divides the Millers' farm into two 50-hectare plots on either side.
Bruce Miller, 70, lost an estimated 27ha to the expressway, but describes it as great news for Waipa.
"It's a huge positive for Cambridge, it's for the best. Good heavens, at the moment I just don't go into town on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday because the traffic is shocking. Now I'll be able to drive to Cambridge and not spend 10 minutes waiting at my front gate. It'll be a nice, peaceful drive."
Miller first heard about plans for the expressway 43 years ago and said its development was inevitable.
"It's progress, at the end of the day, and you can't stop progress, so you might as well go with the flow. Let's just say the [transport] agency has been reasonable to me."
Waikato Regional Council chairwoman Paula Southgate said the expressway section will shift freight and traffic more efficiently through the region.
It will also create a safer transport corridor for travellers.
Since 2010, six people have died and 20 people have been seriously injured on the stretch of SH1 to be replaced by the Cambridge section.
"We've come a long way from having bits of the state highway in different kinds of repair," Southgate said.
"To get a more efficient and safer highway is great progress for the Waikato because we are one of the largest transport corridors in the country. Everyone travelling south from Auckland in a vehicle comes through the Waikato."
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the completed Cambridge section means a lot to Hamilton, as so much traffic flows through Cambridge on its way to the city.
Anything that makes the trip north into Hamilton speedier and safer is positive, she said.
Waikato Regional Councillor for Waipa-King Country Stuart Kneebone avoided visiting Cambridge during peak-hour traffic because of the congestion.
He said Cambridge will become a more attractive destination for visitors, Kneebone said, and predicts more businesses will explore opportunities in the town.
The Hamilton and Huntly sections of the expressway, a Roads of National Significance project, are set to be completed by 2020.
The Cambridge section by the numbers
* $250 million project completed six months ahead of schedule.
* 16km of four-lane, median-divided expressway - the equivalent of 19,890 steps.
* Eight bridges and three interchanges.
* 10,000 vehicles a day will be diverted from Cambridge on to the expressway.
* 1.25 million cubic metres of dirt shifted and 500,000 square metres of road paved.
* 30,000 tonnes of concrete and 2100 tonnes of steel used.
* 365,000 native and exotic plants put in the ground.
* 350 people worked on the Cambridge section at peak times.
* 1.2 million litres of water a day used for dust control during the dry summer months.
* 150 pieces of equipment used onsite at different times, including 20 excavators, 17 bulldozers and 16 articulated dump trucks.
NZTA will host a community day on December 15 to give people the chance to explore the Cambridge section on foot, bike, or by bus. The event will be based at the Victoria Road Interchange and runs from 3pm to 8pm.
Free bus tours will start at Victoria Road and travel along the expressway, stopping at the northern and southern interchanges and the Karapiro Gully Viaduct. For $40, people can also take a five-minute helicopter flight over the expressway.