The NZ Transport Agency says a large crowd turned up to the official opening of the Ngaruwahia Section of the Waikato Expressway, the second section of the Expressway was officially opened by Minister Gerry Brownlee.
Minister Gerry Brownlee, local authority figures, Waikato-Tainui iwi group joined the NZ Transport Agency to officially open the new 12.3km section, which bypasses Ngaruawahia and stretches from Taupiri in the north to Horotiu in the south. The road will then open to traffic in the week of 16 December.
Approximately a thousand members of the wider community attended the official ceremony which ran from 11.30am to 12.15pm on ‘Te Rehu o Waikato’ (the mist of Waikato), the new 142 metre bridge across the Waikato River near Horotiu. The public were able to walk and cycle across the Ngarauwahia section. A separate opening ceremony was also held for the opening of theTe Awa River Ride cycleway.
NZ Transport Agency Waikato Highways Manager Kaye Clark says the approximately $200 million project, built by contractor Fletcher Construction, was completed for around $50 million below its original cost estimate of $250 million.
“This is a crucial piece of infrastructure for the Waikato region and for New Zealand, as it is central to providing safer and more efficient transport links between the business and freight hubs of Waikato, Auckland and Tauranga,” says Mrs Clark.
The Ngaruawahia Section is a crucial link in the Waikato Expressway as it joins to the existing Te Rapa section, and includes interchanges for the yet-to-be-built Huntly and Hamilton sections. Once open the Ngaruawahia section together with the Te Rapa section is expected to provide an estimated average saving of eight minutes to a peak time journey between Taupiri and Hamilton.
“Importers, exporters, tourism operators and commuters will also all benefit from having faster more efficient connections between the Waikato and Auckland,” says Mrs Clark.
Waikato District Mayor Allan Sanson welcomed the opening of the Ngaruawahia Section as another important step in getting this hugely significant piece of infrastructure completed.
“I cannot overstate how important the expressway is for the Waikato district,” says Mayor Sanson. “It is vital to our future growth and prosperity, by providing a modern transport link that will encourage, and is already encouraging, businesses and industries to relocate to the magnificent Waikato.”
Mrs Clark says the opening ceremony and open day was set to be a great event which included a dawn blessing of the new pou on the bridge by local iwi. She says the highlight of the Ngaruawahia section is undoubtedly Te Rehu o Waikato. The name refers to the many significant events in Waikato-Tainui history which occurred when there was a blanket of mist on the river. The bridge is supported by four V-piers, two on either bank, which means that at no stage of its life will piers have had to be placed in the river. Alongside the bridge are four pou (carved poles), two at either end, which depict Waikato-Tainui ancestors and significant historical marae in the area from Taupiri to Horotiu.
Besides Te Rehu o Waikato, there are six local road overbridges on the Ngaruawahia Section, ensuring that disruption has been minimised for local residents by the construction of this vital piece of infrastructure.
Mrs Clark also encourages motorists to be cautious when driving the on the new section of Expressway over the coming weeks, as some drivers may take some time to adjust to the new road layout.
“The road will initially open to traffic with a speed limit of 80 km per hour to ensure that the road surface settles appropriately. This is only temporary, and the speed limit should be raised to 100 km/h within two days of the road opening,” says Mrs Clark.