Tunnel vision increases Milford Road safety, reliability


The Homer Tunnel on the SH94 route to Milford Sound Piopiotahi is ready for winter, with the recent completion of a new avalanche shelter on the Te Anau side of the tunnel, says NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA).

“NZTA has worked with its Crown infrastructure partners on a $29 million upgrade over the last three years, focused on improving safety and reliability for all Homer Tunnel users and work crews,” says James Caygill, Director Regional Relationships at NZTA.

The highway, the only road to iconic Milford Sound Piopiotahi, is a lifeline for Milford Sound-based tourism and commercial fishing businesses. “We need this route to be as safe and resilient as possible, given its importance to the economy and the Southland and Otago communities,” says Mr Caygill.

The surrounding alpine terrain and extreme weather meant the only window to safely build the new shelter was in the summer construction season from November to May. It replaces a 70-year-old shelter that had reached the end of its economic life.

“Thanks to the dedication and hard work of the project team, they got this job over the finish line in a tight time frame, in harsh mountainous terrain,” he says.

There was also the challenge of working in a World Heritage National Park, requiring the careful management of environmental factors throughout.

The new avalanche shelter was designed to be portable and modular, with 165 pre-cast concrete modules assembled on site like giant Lego.

Alongside the new shelter, the tunnel’s power, sound and lighting systems were overhauled and a new plant and equipment room built into the foot of the mountain. A 1.2km duct protects cabling in a fire, and a solar-powered communications tower upgrade delivers better coverage in this remote wilderness area.

Homer Tunnel safety improvements

Work crew installing concrete blocks at night.

Work underway assembling the prefabricated pieces.

Yellow car driving on freshly sealed road inside the entrance to the tunnel with two workers in high visability jackets and helmets looking on.

A smooth, freshly asphalted surface inside the new entrance to the Homer Tunnel on the Te Anau side, protecting road users from avalanche and rockfall hazards.

Looking into the tunnel from outside with snow on the hillside.

The new avalanche shelter entrance features unique artwork depicting the special cultural connection local iwi have with Milford Sound.