Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is about to take the first steps in constructing Te Ara o Te Ata: Mt Messenger Bypass, with preparations for an innovative cableway structure taking centre stage.
At the same time the project’s major environmental commitment is underway, with a start to the formation of a pest management area covering 3,650 hectares of bush on either side of the new route.
Waka Kotahi Director Regional Relationships Linda Stewart says the two streams of activity demonstrate the broad deliverables of the project.
“Our goal is to build a safer, more reliable and more resilient 6km section of State Highway 3 while delivering significant and long-lasting environmental benefits.
“Waka Kotahi, the Mt Messenger Alliance and our iwi partner Ngāti Tama are thrilled to be getting started on this hugely important project for Taranaki and Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Made up of Waka Kotahi, Downer, HEB Construction, Tonkin+Taylor and WSP, the Mt Messenger Alliance will start work on vegetation clearance for the foundations and anchors of the 1.1km temporary cableway – which will be used for about 12 months to transport machinery and personnel over a deep vegetated valley into the heart of the bypass alignment.
A first for roading projects in New Zealand, the cableway will have a 28-metre-high central tower near to the existing rest area at the top of Mt Messenger.
“The cableway will allow us to start this project much sooner than would otherwise have been possible.
“It’s a smart solution that can get the project off to a good start and help us deliver the bypass much earlier than had been expected.”
Building on the environmental monitoring and protection work that Alliance ecologists have been undertaking since 2017, the start of track formation in the surrounding forest will signal a major milestone for the project’s environmental commitments.
Mrs Stewart says the project team is excited to be starting the intensive and enduring pest management programme that will cover 3,650 hectares, or 36.5 square kilometres, of forest.
“The Alliance team, working with Ngāti Tama, will create a 250km network of traps and bait stations placed every 100 to 150 metres to reduce the numbers of all significant pests such as rats, stoats, possums, feral pigs, feral cats, deer, goats and weasels.
“This will support recovery of the mature native forest and habitat surrounding the bypass route, which has suffered from serious pest damage, and provide an environment where threatened species such as long-tailed bats, lizards, kiwi and other native birds can thrive.”
It is estimated that the kiwi population in this area could increase by more than 1,200 birds over 30 years.
“Te Ara o Te Ata has been described as an environmental project with a road running through it, as opposed to the other way around. We take a great deal of pride in this and feel a significant responsibility to live up to it.
“This project will be of major benefit to Taranaki – delivering numerous safety, economic and environmental outcomes – and we look forward to getting started.”
Chair of the Taranaki Mayoral forum, Phil Nixon, was pleased to see the long-awaited project get underway.
“This is great news. State Highway 3 is a vital connection for Taranaki and the Taranaki Mayoral Forum has been advocating for this project for many years.
“A safer more reliable northern corridor is absolutely crucial for our region’s ongoing economic growth and prosperity.
“I'm also pleased to see the innovative use of technology to speed the construction process, alongside the commitment to environmental and biodiversity restoration.
“However, there is much more work still to be done and the Taranaki Mayoral Forum is committed to advocating for further investment and safety upgrades to a number of high risk locations across our region.”
Ngāti Tama Chair Paul Silich says the iwi is excited about the start of the project.
“We are putting in place a monitoring plan that will give the iwi cultural oversight of the project as well as opportunities to tender for contracts, employment and training for the different workstreams – such as environmental, ecological, cultural and general works around building a road.
“The iwi is on a journey of rediscovery where we will be working on and connected to the land again, practising our kaitiakitanga in our ancestral rohe (lands).”