An important new highway connection in New Zealand’s South Island has moved one step closer to gaining approval for its construction but the plans are the focus for some controversy. In addition, approval has been given for winter working on the Hawke's Bay to Manawatu highway project. This will allow work to be carried out for the earthmoving portion of the new highway at the Ashhurst end of the highway alignment. And work will now be carried out on the transport upgrade works for the NZ Upgrade Programme announced during January 2020.
The controversial new road for the South Island would provide a more direct route to the popular tourist destination of Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most scenic sights. The current road between Hollyford Valley and Milford Sound suffers congestion at peak periods, while it is also subject to closures during winter periods. At the moment, the drive from Haast to Milford Sound is 539km, but the new highway would reduce the distance to around 200km. The tourism sector contributes substantially to New Zealand's economy and the new road is expected to deliver a further boost.
However, the full approval process has yet to be completed and as the current proposed alignment runs through the Fiordland National Park, it will face tough opposition on environmental grounds. Building the route, should the project go ahead in its current form, is expected to cost around US$182 million (NZ$250 million). Much of the financing is expected to come from international sources. Other transport infrastructure projects such as a new tunnel and a monorail have previously been suggested for this area of South Island and have also met with strong opposition on environmental grounds.
There are considerable technical challenges to be overcome, not the least of which will be a number of bridges, crossing the Cascade River, Gorge River and Pyke River, as well as other smaller bridges. The tough terrain, through forest areas that have never been logged, will also make construction work harder and there are suggestions that the final cost of the highway will be considerably higher than the current estimate. The challenging environment also means that maintenance costs for the road as well as any bridges would likely be high.
Meanwhile, construction work on the $449 million (NZ$620 million) highway connecting Hawke's Bay and Manawatu continues despite the winter weather. A temporary bridge will help with the construction of the new 300m Parahaki Bridge spanning the Manawatu River.
The new Te Ahu a Turanga Manawatu Tararua Highway will replace the existing State Highway 3 (SH3). The new route should be ready for traffic in late 2024.
And in addition, the 24km linking Otaki and north of Levin will now be built at a cost of $592 million (NZ$817 million). Work on the 21.5km Mill Rd project in Auckland between Drury and Manukau should commence in 2022 and be complete by 2028 at a cost in excess of $1 billion. The Otaki Highway and Mill Rd project are both included in the NZ Upgrade Programme.