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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

    $250 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 $37.5 million Government’s Accelerated Regional Roading Programme
Mt Messenger Bypass $200 million Government’s Accelerated Regional Roading Programme and the National Land Transport Programme 2015–18
Safety and Resilience improvements $25–30 million National Land Transport Programme 2015–18


Construction for each project is estimated to occur during:

  • 2017 to 2020 – SH3 Safety and Resilience Improvements
  • 2019 to 2021 – Awakino Tunnel Bypass
  • 2020 to 2024 – Mt Messenger Bypass


What's happening

A detailed design for the new Mt Messenger route is progressing. Appeals have been made to the High Court on an Environment Court interim decision about the project’s consents and Notice of Requirement (NOR). A hearing is expected to be held in late August 2020. The Environment Court heard appeals to the decision in 2018 to grant the project’s resource consents and confirm the NoR following an independent hearing.

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

Some minor safety improvements were completed along the 58km stretch of highway which includes Awakino Tunnel and Mt Messenger. More complex safety and resilience improvements on this section of SH3 are currently being constructed including new passing lanes, intersection improvements in Tongaporutu and some slope stability improvements in the Awakino Gorge.

AG2MM What's Happening infographic - May 2020