The NZ Transport Agency will open two of the Victoria Park Tunnel's three lanes to traffic on Monday, 7 November, at the end of a week of intensive work to divert northbound motorway lanes underground from the existing Victoria Park flyover.
A week earlier, on 29 October, the Prime Minister, John Key, will officially open the tunnel. This will mark a major milestone in the staged completion of the Victoria Park Tunnel project, which will be the first completed of the Government's seven roads of national significance prioritised to support New Zealand's economic growth to open. The public will also have the opportunity to walk through the tunnel, and it will be the venue for a charity gala dinner.
These celebrations will be followed in the week leading up to 7 November by extensive road works to get the tunnel ready for what will be the first part of a staged commissioning of the $340 million project that will increase motorway capacity and ease congestion between the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Central Motorway Junction when work is finally completed next March.
"We're on the final leg of getting the tunnel ready and making a huge impact for people driving through central Auckland," says the NZTA's State Highways manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker.
"While the tunnel opens to traffic in November, drivers will have to wait until January to start to enjoy the benefits of the project. That's when we reconfigure the Victoria Park flyover for four lanes of southbound traffic - two going off to the Auckland CBD and the Northwestern Motorway and two heading south on State Highway 1.
"When finally completed early in March, the Victoria Park Tunnel project will remove the last major traffic bottleneck on the city's central motorway network, providing safer and more reliable trip times for approximately 150,000 vehicles a day," Mr Parker adds.
Before 7 November, the tunnel will be at the centre of a busy schedule of events.
One thousand paying guests will use the tunnel as a dining hall on Thursday, 27 October. The unique gala event will raise funds to complete Ronald McDonald House Auckland Trust's family accommodation unit, Grafton Mews. The Trust provides support and accommodation for families from all over New Zealand whose children must receive treatment at Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital.
""We're thrilled with the opportunity to host this event. Not only will it raise much needed funds, people will also have the opportunity to be a part of history," says the CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Auckland Trust, Wayne Howett.
Two days later - Saturday, 29 October - Mr Key will lead a ribbon cutting celebration to officially open the tunnel. It will be people, not traffic, who have first use of the tunnel. The ribbon cutting will be followed by a public open day when people will have the chance to walk through the 450 metre-long tunnel.
The NZTA says numbers will be restricted, and people will need to register first before they can make the walk.
"It's a question of safety," Mr Parker says. "Space in the tunnel is limited and there are only so many people we can accommodate comfortably at once."
People who want to make the walk must book first, at http://tunnelwalk.eventbrite.com/(external link)
Outside the tunnel, there will be celebrations in Victoria Park which include demonstrations at the Auckland Council's new skatepark, a walk of art, displays and food stalls
"All these activities have a link to the project and the work done by the NZTA and its project partners and Auckland Council to restore the area after the disruption caused by months of tunnel construction," Mr Parker adds.
During the week that follows, contractors will be busy with final work to have the tunnel and the motorway approaches to it ready for traffic on 7 November.
"Switching motorway traffic to the tunnel will be complicated, and there will be disruption for drivers during the day and at night as we complete this essential work," Mr Parker says. "We've had terrific support from drivers and we will need their patience a little longer to get the job done."
The project will increase the capacity of State Highway 1 over 2.2km, from the Auckland Harbour Bridge to the Central Motorway Junction. The additional capacity will come from: