The state highway network provides a strategic roading link between districts and regions.

State highways help to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the entire length and breadth of the country. They link main centres of population to industrial hubs and tourism destinations. State highways also play an important role in delivering public transport solutions. In our planning, we work to build connections with local networks and maintain the functioning of the state highway.

What makes a state highway or motorway?

State highways

A state highway is a road that is declared to be a state highway under section 11 of the National Roads Act 1953, section 60 of the Government Roading Powers Act 1989, or under section 103 of the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA)(external link).

They do not have to be constructed or owned by the Crown and can include:

  • all land along or beside the road route
  • any part of an intersection that is within the route.

The Secretary for Transport has the power to declare or revoke state highways, based on our recommendations. We must consult with any affected regional council or territorial authority that may be affected by the proposed declaration before making these recommendations.


A motorway has a number of specific requirements in relation to access, road user modes and utility location. Under the Government Roading Powers Act, at our request, the Governor-General may, by Order in Council:

  • authorise the construction of any motorway and state as nearly as possible its route and where it starts and ends
  • declare any land, the airspace above it and subsoil below it, or any road, to be a motorway, whether or not a motorway is actually constructed.

Our role

We are the road controlling authority for New Zealand's state highway network. We're responsible for the planning, design, building, maintenance and operation of nearly 11,000km of state highways.

In developing the state highway network we're committed to an integrated planning approach that takes account of how the land transport network and land use fit together to produce the most efficient, safe, effective and enduring solutions. This is why we work with local government to ensure that the state highway network links seamlessly into the local roading network.

Learn more about our approach to integrated planning.

Find out more about what we do.

What happens when a state highway is no longer needed?

Sometimes a state highway is no longer required, for example where duplicate sections exist following realignment or construction of a bypass. After consulting with:

  • affected councils
  • Auckland Transport, if the section of state highway is in Auckland, and/or
  • Māori trustees, Treaty governance body, iwi or hapū, if the revocation affects Māori land or interests

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency will recommend to the Ministry of Transport that state highway status be revoked.

Find out more about the new state highway revocation process [PDF, 864 KB]

Planning considerations for state highways

State highway classification

What is the state highway classification?

Classification categorises roads in the state highway network based on their function. Function refers to the road's main purpose, such as moving freight to and from a port, or people between main centres. The categories are national strategic (with a high volume subset), regional strategic, regional connector and regional distributor.

See the map showing classification of our state highway network [PDF, 773 KB]

Highways are sorted into categories according to criteria such as size of population centres, traffic volume, freight volume and tourist numbers. Thresholds have been created for each criteria.

See the criteria and thresholds for the classification [PDF, 75 KB]

Learn more about how the classification was consulted on and developed in our consultation section(external link).

How is the classification used?

Classifying our state highways helps us set the long-term strategic direction for our state highway network, It guides our investment decisions for the ongoing management and future development of the network. The government's top priority for land transport is to help boost New Zealand's economy by moving people and freight more safely and efficiently. The more we know about how our main roads are used, the more effective we'll be at achieving this. It's also a single approach which will give us more clarity across the whole state highway network, and will help make sure that these highways best serve the needs of all road users.

Classification of our state highways will help inform decisions about the level of service or road user experience that a particular category of highway should offer. In turn these service levels will inform the design, maintenance and operations needed to provide that level of service.

Roads of national significance

The roads of national significance (RoNS) programme represents one of New Zealand's biggest ever infrastructure investments. The six RoNS projects are based around New Zealand's five largest population centres. The focus is on moving people and freight between and within these centres more safely and efficiently. The RoNS are ‘lead infrastructure’ projects – that is, they enable economic growth rather than simply responding to it.

The RoNS projects are:

  • Puhoi to Wellsford – State Highway 1
  • Auckland Western Ring Route – State Highways 20, 16 and 18
  • Waikato Expressway – State Highway 1
  • Tauranga Eastern Corridor – State Highway 2
  • Wellington Northern Corridor (Levin to Wellington Airport) – State Highway 1
  • Christchurch Motorway.

Victoria Park Tunnel in Auckland, also a RoNS project, has already been completed.

The RoNS represent an acceleration in planning for major national transport infrastructure in New Zealand, including lead infrastructure – proactive improvements that encourage economic growth. The NLTP aims to advance the delivery of the identified RoNS so they are substantially completed within the next 10 years. However, as this will require funding beyond that currently identified, alternative financing options are likely to be explored.

Providing for passing and overtaking

Our passing and overtaking policy applies to open road two-lane state highways that are in rural and peri-urban (peripheral urban) areas, until the point that four-laning is likely to be required.

See the detailed passing and overtaking policy

Providing for public transport

While we don't provide public transport services, we work with partner agencies to provide infrastructure on state highways to support public transport services. Our aim is to improve travel times and reliability for public transport and encourage a shift from private cars to reduce congestion on state highways.

Find out more about what we are doing for public transport

Providing for walking and cycling

We are committed to providing and maintaining appropriate, safe and cost-effective walking and cycling facilities and traffic information and management techniques for cyclists and pedestrians using state highways.

Find out more about what we are doing for walking and cycling

Development and access

The strategic function of state highways is primarily about keeping through traffic moving safely and efficiently with appropriately efficient access, especially in urban areas and areas of economic activity. 

Developments that occur alongside state highways can impact on this strategic function. Activities that may affect the state highway include:

  • subdivision, development or changes made to the use of land near a state highway
  • the creation of or change to a direct access onto a state highway
  • any activity that may affect a state highway, even if not directly adjacent to it.

The types of issues we're concerned about include:

  • additional traffic movements and their impact on flow and congestion
  • additional or changed access
  • the design of access
  • the impact on safety
  • visibility from the access
  • crash history
  • cumulative effects on state highway capacity and safety
  • visual distractions (for example advertising signs, blimps, helicopter-pads, laser-light displays)
  • landscaping and planting which may cause obstruction, shading or otherwise impair visibility
  • glare from lighting
  • mitigating measures, if required.

As part of seeking resource consents, landowners or developers need to consider how their proposals affect the safety and efficiency of the state highway. The Resource Management Act 1991(external link) establishes the NZ Transport Agency as 'an affected person' and occupier of state highways, which means developers need our written approval for any activities affecting state highways. Contacting us early in the planning process can speed up the consent process and avoid delays and unwelcome surprises.

Contact your nearest regional office to discuss your development.

Use of designations

We sometimes use the designation process to acquire property that is critical to the development of a state highway, but wider than the actual road space. This helps to ensure we can later integrate future state highway requirements with adjacent land use.

The situations where we may do this include:

  • future motorways
  • four–laning and 2+1 lanes (continuous alternating passing lanes)
  • some passing lanes
  • realignments (if access controls cannot be easily implemented)
  • some curve Improvements
  • upgrade of high-volume intersections
  • special user requirements and utilities.

Find out more about the state highway designation process [PDF, 449 KB]

Our road hierarchy

We use the following road hierarchy to help plan the state highway network.

  Type of urban road Primary function/generalised description
1 Motorways A motorway has a number of specific implications in relation to restriction on access, road user modes and utility location.
2 Expressways Expressways are typically 80–100km/h roads with four lanes and well-spaced at grade intersections.
3 Primary arterials Main roads other than motorways and expressways joining significant centres of population and/or providing for national and inter-regional traffic flow.
4 Secondary arterials Roads joining smaller centres of population, joining larger centres of population to nearby primary arterials or linking between primary arterials. These are typically our main tourist routes

Local roading networks

Good integration of the state highway and local roads is important. We encourage alternative district roading networks:

  • in conjunction with territorial authorities, in their development of structure plans that link existing and proposed major district roads into state highways.
  • as an 'affected third party', through requiring resource consents conditions on subdivision applications that propose access either onto state highways or district roads near state highway intersections.