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50th birthday celebrations, 31 August 2014

Sunday 31 August was a triple celebration. Not only was it a celebration of the Lyttelton Tunnel’s 50th birthday, but also the opening of the new Lyttelton Tunnel control building and national recognition of the tunnel for its engineering heritage.

The new tunnel control building was opened by the Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Nicky Wagner and the commemorative cake was cut by the Associate Minister and Jack Smith who project managed construction of the tunnel in the early 1960s.

The tunnel opened in 1964, 110 years after it was first mooted and was hailed by the community as the new gateway from the Port to the Plains. It was a significant development in the history of the region.

The tunnel cost 2.7 million pounds to build and it was said to be 'among the most modern in the world'. At 1944m long it became, and still remains, New Zealand’s longest functioning road tunnel. This will only change when the Waterview Tunnel opens in 2017. It took three years to build.

Sunday’s celebrations were attended by many of the men who built the tunnel and also those who manned the toll booths. It was a memorable day and the community is already planning the next event when the tunnel turns 100!

Tunnel history and facts

The State Highway 74 Christchurch-Lyttelton Road Tunnel is one New Zealand's most historic and challenging engineering achievements.

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For years the idea of a tunnel was rejected as a way of providing road access to the port of Lyttelton, because 'horses arriving hot from the Canterbury plains could catch a cold on entering the cooler temperatures of a tunnel'. However, commonsense eventually prevailed and a railway tunnel was finally completed in 1867. By the 20th century the shortcomings of this single track railway tunnel were proving costly, leading in the late 1950s to legislation allowing a Christchurch to Lyttelton Road Tunnel to be built.

The tunnel was built at a cost of £3 million by a joint venture consortium of New Zealand owned Fletcher Construction Ltd, and the American Henry J. Kaiser Co. Construction started in 1962 with the tunnel opened on 27 February 1964. It is currently our longest road tunnel at 1,970 metres (6,460 ft) in New Zealand. Pedestrians, cyclists and petrol tankers are not allowed to use the tunnel.

The Road Tunnel Authority intended paying for the tunnel with toll charges on freight tonnage and vehicles passing through it, with the aim of making the tunnel freehold some 54 years after it opened. These ended up being scrapped in 1979 just 15 years after the tunnel opened.

Constructing this tunnel was one of the most ambitious new highway projects undertaken in the 1960s. Work started in 1960 and was completed four years later at a cost of 2.7 million pounds. Around 150,000 cubic metres of rock was removed to create the tunnel.

Christchurch-Lyttelton Road Tunnel booklets

More about the history of the tunnel can be found in the two booklets below. One was produced in 1964 to mark the official tunnel opening and the other was produced in 1956 and outlines the benefits of the proposed Lyttelton tunnel.

Note: Not all the details mentioned in this publication became part of the final tunnel design.

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