The Cambridge section of the Waikato Expressway will open to traffic on December 16 - six months ahead of schedule.
The $250 million NZ Transport Agency project stretches from the Tamahere Interchange on State Highway 1, to just south of Cambridge.
It includes eight bridges, walking and cycling paths, a number of artworks and 365,000 native and exotic plants planted along its length.
Transport Minister Hon Simon Bridges this morning officially opened the Cambridge section, ahead of a community event that will see thousands walk and cycle the new road before it opens to traffic tomorrow afternoon.
The project is one of seven sections of the $2.1 billion Waikato Expressway, a Road of National Significance (RoNS) identified by the Government as key to unlocking New Zealand’s economic potential.
Once complete, the Waikato Expressway will be the key transport corridor for the region, connecting Auckland to the agricultural and business centres of Waikato and Bay of Plenty.
The Transport Agency’s Hamilton highways manager Kaye Clark said the Cambridge section is a vital part of the expressway and will leave a lasting impression on the region.
“It is so exciting to see this long awaited project come to an end,” Mrs Clark said.
“The Cambridge section will shave off around five minutes travel time between Hamilton and Cambridge, but more importantly, it will significantly improve safety.
“Over the past five years (2010-2015) six people have died and 20 have been seriously injured on the stretch of SH1 that this section of the expressway will replace. We look forward to seeing a positive change.”
Mrs Clark said the 16 kilometre long Cambridge section is the third part of the Waikato Expressway to be completed.
“Te Rapa, Ngarauawahia and now the Cambridge section are complete, and we are making huge strides on the remainder of the expressway, with work starting on the Hamilton section in 2016.
“The entire 102 kilometre length is set to be open in 2020,” she said.
The Cambridge section involved 1.25 million cubic metres of earthworks, 300,000 tonnes of concrete and saw up to 300 people working onsite during peak times.
Mrs Clark said contractors HEB Construction did a fantastic job on an often challenging site to get the project finished six months ahead of schedule.
“The project team tackled the project head on,” she said.
“Their hard work and dedication has ensured we finished construction well ahead of schedule.”
HEB Construction project manager Gary Budden says the company is very proud to have worked with the Transport Agency, designers AECOM, Opus and their suppliers to deliver the project.
“The Cambridge section of the expressway is being opened today six months ahead of schedule and with an excellent safety and environmental record,” he said.
“We want to acknowledge the huge interest and support from the Cambridge community. It has been a pleasure for our team to have been part of the local community for the last two years.”
Mana whenua Ngāti Koroki Kahukura and Ngāti Hauā have been involved with the project since its inception and throughout construction.
Spokesperson Karaitiana Tamatea said the early opening is a true indication of what can be achieved when all participants on the project work together.
“Communication, and more importantly, decision making has been open, transparent and managed in a collaborative and constructive way,” Mr Tamatea said.
“The appropriate saying for this project is by the first king, Kiingi Pootatau, (1770 - 1860):
“Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna it e miro maa, te miro pango, te miro whero. I muri, kia mau it e aroha, it e ture, it e whakapono.” Translated “There is one eye of the needle where the white, black and red threads will enter but in the end the tapestry of love, the law and faith will prevail.
“In the context of today, the eye of the needle is the Cambridge section. The different coloured threads are the different groups involved.
"Working together to complete the project whilst ensuring the integrity, presence and aspirations of all involved, is achieved"
Waipa District Council mayor Jim Mylchreest said the Transport Agency and its contractors deserved a "pat on the back" for the outstanding job they had done in building the Cambridge section.
"From Council's point of view, it's been a very well-run and very well communicated project,” he said.
“The community and council has been kept up to speed every step of the way and our concerns and suggestions have been listened to and actioned whenever possible.
"The community see it as positive for the town as much of that heavy traffic will no longer be clogging up Cambridge roads - and it opens up an opportunity for Cambridge to further cement its growing reputation as a 'destination town' for shopping and events. So that's a very good thing."
Waikato District Council mayor Allan Sanson said his council is also pleased to see the Cambridge section open.
“The project has been a huge undertaking. Its success has relied on the partnership, commitment and vision of district councils and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) working together.
“We are proud of the part we have had to play in this work and are delighted to see this section of the Expressway open for business.
“We now have an effective infrastructure to support the needs of our residents, businesses and visitors to our district,” he said.
Mrs Clark said a big thank you must go to the local community who have been driving through road works for the past two years.
“Despite the project teams best efforts we know it has been tough at times,” she said.
“Thank you for your patience and for sticking with us on this journey. We hope you enjoy driving on this new stretch of road as much as we enjoyed building it.”
The Cambridge section stretches from the Tamahere Interchange in the north to just south of Cambridge near the Cambridge Golf Course.
It is 16 kilometres long, which is approximately 19,890 steps if you wanted to walk it.
The project cost $250 million and involved: