The start of tunnelling on the NZ Transport Agency's (NZTA) landmark Waterview Connection project in Auckland has moved a significant step closer with the NZTA's Well-Connected Alliance formally accepting the huge machine it will use to construct the twin 2.5km-long tunnels.
The state-of-the-art Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) is the 10th largest machine of its kind ever to be built worldwide and has been designed specifically for the unique ground conditions on the $1.4b Waterview Connection - the biggest transport construction project in New Zealand’s history and the key to unlocking the full benefits of Auckland’s motorway network.
The handover – marked by an official signing at Guangzhou in south east China where the German manufacturer of the TBM, Herrenknecht, has a factory – follows 14 months of design, build and testing of the giant machine.
The TBM’s circular cutting head, painted black with a silver fern logo, is more than 14 metres wide – the equivalent of a building three storeys high – and the machine is almost 100 metres long – the length of a rugby field. The machine will now be dismantled for shipment to New Zealand and is due to arrive in Auckland in July before being reassembled at the project’s southern tunnel portal to begin tunnelling in October.
The Waterview Connection is part of the Western Ring Route road of national significance and will join SH20 (Southwestern Motorway) and SH16 (Northwestern Motorway) to complete a 47 kilometre-long motorway alternative to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
“The size of this project and the size of the tunnel boring machine are both on a scale the likes of which we have never seen before in New Zealand,” says the NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker.
“Since mid-2012 we have preparing a trench that will not only form the southern tunnel approach, but provide the TBM’s launch pad,” Mr Parker adds. “This requires us to excavate to a depth of 30 metres, initially, drilling and blasting through a 15m-thick layer of very hard volcanic rock.”
To construct two 2.5km-long tunnels, each wide enough for three lanes of traffic, the TBM will pass beneath the rock and tunnel through softer, clay-like soil known as the East Coast Bay Formation. It is expected to take a year to complete the first tunnel, emerging beyond Great North Road in Waterview, where work is already underway to prepare for its arrival and turnaround for the return journey.
Mr Parker says that when completed in 2017, the project will help unlock Auckland’s potential for economic growth and will also have considerable benefits for its Northland and Waikato/Bay of Plenty neighbours.
“Easing pressure on the city’s existing motorway network will have flow-on effects that will encourage business growth, tourism and jobs. For the first time there will be a direct motorway link between Auckland International Airport and the CBD. The network will become more resilient – two motorway links through Auckland reduce the risk of any disruption to traffic bringing the city to a standstill.”
The Waterview Connection, Mr Parker adds, aims to deliver maximum regional and national benefits with a minimum long-term impact on the communities surrounding the project.
“Tunnelling obviously allows us to do this, and a strong focus on urban design and landscaping – like the rehabilitation work we’ve already carried out around Oakley Creek – ensures that the effects of all above ground work are carefully mitigated.”
TBM quick facts
For more information visit: www.nzta.govt.nz/waterviewconnection(external link). Latest news and videos are also available via Well-Connected’s Twitter and Youtube channels www.twitter.com/wcnow(external link) and www.youtube.com/wcnow(external link).
Roads of National Significance
As part of the Western Ring Route, the Waterview Connection is crucial to supporting growth in Auckland and improving transport links between the city and the economic centres of Northland and Waikato/Bay of Plenty.
The Western Ring Route – Waterview and the adjacent project to raise and widen the SH16 causeway - is part of the NZTA’s roads of national significance programme (RoNS for short), which represents one of New Zealand’s biggest-ever infrastructure investments. Once completed, the seven RoNS routes will reduce congestion in and around our five largest metropolitan areas, and will move people and freight between and within these centres more safely and efficiently.
Other RoNS are: Ara Tuhono – Puhoi to Wellsford north of Auckland, Auckland’s Victoria Park Tunnel (completed in 2012), Waikato Expressway, Tauranga Eastern Link, Wellington Northern Corridor, and Christchurch Motorways. More information is available at www.nzta.govt.nz/rons(external link)