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.