The final three links of the chain that will allow commuters a swifter drive through the Waikato are about to fall into place, thanks to a billion-dollar funding injection.

Work on the final three sections of the Waikato Expressway can start this year, after the NZ Transport Agency board approved $1.08 billion to fund construction of the Hamilton and Longswamp sections. The agency also expects to announce the successful tenderer for the $458 million Huntly section this month.


Waikato and Bay of Plenty regional director Harry Wilson said the green light meant all seven sections of the expressway would be built, under construction, or out to tender by the end of this year.


The expressway extends from the intersection of state highways 1 and 2 at the base of the Bombay hill in the north to just south of Cambridge. It will, when completed, provide 102 kilometres of continuous divided four-lane highway and reduce the length of SH1 by 6km. It is being built in seven sections and is on track to open in 2019.


The $972.94m Hamilton section will connect to the Ngaruawahia section completed in 2013 and to the Cambridge section due for completion next year.


The $115.09m Longswamp section will cover 5.9km and connect to the Rangiriri section and the completed Mercer section.


Work will now begin on preparing the tender documents for the Hamilton and Longswamp sections with construction of both projects expected to get under way next year.


Construction of the $468m 15.2km-long Huntly section is expected to start in September. This section will connect the Ohinewai section in the north with the Ngaruawahia section to the south.


"The expressway is a vital piece of infrastructure which will cut travel times between Auckland and Tirau by up to 35 minutes, significantly improve safety by preventing serious crashes, increase highway capacity and make a major contribution to our country's economic growth," Wilson said.


"Today's announcement is a significant step forward for the project. It is the culmination of ongoing work and collaboration between the agency, the Waikato local and regional councils and key partners such as Waikato-Tainui.


". . . It will be exciting to watch the final sections of the Waikato Expressway take shape."

Wilson said the 21.8km Hamilton section and the 15.2km Huntly sections were the largest and most complex sections of the expressway, and would also bring the biggest benefits in terms of travel time savings and safety.


"Work on the Huntly section is expected to begin in September and we will start the tender process on the other two sections over the next eight months.


"This work, combined with the other two final sections, will bring an immediate boost to the local economy. These projects will create jobs locally with the employment of subcontractors and provide a flow-on effect for local businesses, which is great news for our region."


Multi-party funding agreements for the Hamilton section are being settled between the Transport Agency, Waikato District Council, Hamilton City Council and Tainui Group Holdings. The agreements outline how the interchanges will connect to the local road network, particularly around Ruakura and Rototuna, to deliver an effective transport system that supports growth and development.

The announcement has been welcomed by the region's leaders.


Hamilton East MP David Bennett said the funding was the single biggest investment the region had seen and was what the Waikato needed and deserved as a major economic driver for the country.

"It unlocks the region and creates the infrastructure for real economic growth in Hamilton," he said. "For the Waikato this is important as you head from a dairying into more infrastructure and industry-based economy."


He estimated the Hamilton section would be finished by the 2019-20 financial year, meeting the Government's promise to complete the project within 10 years of its 2009 promise.


Waikato Regional Transport Committee chairman Hugh Vercoe said the committee - made up of representatives of the region's councils and other stakeholders - had long been united in its strong advocacy for expressway funding.


"Identifying the expressway as a priority for our region, and speaking with one voice on this issue has really helped guide central government's thinking on providing funding. This is fantastic news and the work will give a further shot in the arm to the regional economy, road safety and quicker journeys for both business and the public."


Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the completion of the expressway would deliver enormous long-term benefits to the Waikato and to Hamilton.


"Easy, safer and quicker travel times between Auckland and Hamilton will provide another boost to Hamilton's liveability and economy. We have already experienced the benefits of this roading project with the sections completed to date."


Waikato District Council deputy mayor Dynes Fulton said the region was developing at a fast pace and completion of the expressway allowed his council to continue supporting that growth.


"Like our partners, we are planning well in advance to ensure we get the right infrastructure balance."

Waikato-Tainui chief executive Parekawhia McLean said Waikato-Tainui welcomed the funding commitment.


"The benefits of the expressway to the region are vast. Like the Transport Agency, a key priority for the tribe has always been to make our roads safe for everyone."


WAYNE TIMMO AND MIKE MATHER

- Waikato Times

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