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Programme introduction

Improvements are underway on State Highway 3 (SH3) from Awakino Gorge to Mt Messenger to improve safety, resilience and route availability. This 58km section of SH3 is Taranaki’s main route north, it runs through rough terrain and is winding and narrow.

  • Estimated project cost

    $330 million+
  • Project type

    Safety improvements
  • Project status

    Design, Investigation

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Three projects

The State Highway 3 Awakino Gorge to Mt Messenger Programme is made up of:

  • Mt Messenger Bypass
    The bypass of Mt Messenger is 5.2km long with additional work at the southern end creating about 6 km of improvements. It is located east of the existing highway (identified as Option C in the June 2017 public engagement). The route  includes two bridges of approximately 125m and 30m length, and a 235m tunnel under the ridgeline south-east of Mt Messenger.
  • Awakino Tunnel Bypass
    A bypass of the Awakino Tunnel with two bridges across the Awakino River that reconnects to the existing highway 800 meters to the north.
  • SH3 Safety and Resilience improvements
    A package of improvements that includes road widening, rest stop and pull over areas, slow vehicle bays and passing lanes, side barriers, and slope stability improvements.


The programme will improve safety, resilience and journey experience along this key transport route.

The main objectives are to:

  • reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries from crashes
  • reduce the number and duration of road closures
  • improve journey time predictability
  • improve drivers’ experience along SH3.


Initial investigations on SH3 were carried out in the 1970s and 1980s by the Ministry of Works and Development for the National Roads Board. Since then a number of studies and investigations have been completed.

A business case confirmed there are ongoing safety, route availability and travel time issues, due to poor road layout along SH3. Poor route configuration has resulted in a number of deaths, serious injuries and road closures over recent years.

Cost and funding source

Project Cost Funding source
Awakino Tunnel Bypass $50.1 million Government’s Accelerated Regional Roading Programme and the National Land Transport Programme 2018-21(external link)
Mt Messenger Bypass $280 million Government’s Accelerated Regional Roading Programme and the National Land Transport Programme 2015–18(external link)
Safety and Resilience improvements $25–30 million National Land Transport Programme 2015–18


Construction for each project is estimated to occur during:

  • 2017-21 SH3 Safety and Resilience Improvements
  • 2022 to 2027 – Mt Messenger Bypass

What's happening

A detailed design for the new Mt Messenger route is being completed. A final Environment Court decision (issued on 1 April 2021) has granted the project’s consents and confirmed the altered designation. However this has been appealed and a High Court hearing is currently scheduled for October 2021. Construction is expected to start in 2022 and take 4.5 years.

Construction on the two-bridge bypass of Awakino Tunnel started in September 2019 and was completed in mid-2021. The project includes a passing lane and realigning a section of highway north of the tunnel.

Safety and resilience improvements have been progressing well along the 58km stretch of highway which includes Awakino Tunnel and Mt Messenger. The last two improvements are due to be completed in early 2022. Construction on the Rapanui Passing Lane began in December 2020. Work to upgrade the safety of the Clifton Road/SH3 intersection at Tongaporutu is expected to get underway in September 2021.