Drivers could catch a glimpse of excavators and other equipment being sent down the mountain on a cable car being built to speed up construction of the bypass.
Motorists could be driving the SH3 Mt Messenger Bypass as early as 2026, a decade after the multimillion-dollar project was first announced.
Prone to falls and slipping, the stretch near Taranaki’s northern border is a vital artery for the region.
The key players involved in building the 6km, $280 million route – Waka Kotahi, Downer, HEB Construction, Tonkin+Taylor and WSP, coming together as an alliance – have now set their cherished milestones.
If all goes according to plan, the 1.1km cable car, announced last week to transport excavators, materials and even people 600 meters down the mountain, should be in place by October, the Alliance said.
* Drivers have been asked to plan ahead for roadworks at the Awakino Tunnel Bypass and Mt Messenger this week
* Families “dig” the community’s first planting day for a $280 million Mt. Messenger Bypass
* Waka Kotahi uses construction foam to seal off potential bat roosts at the Mt Messenger bypass site
The cable car will speed up construction and operate for about 12 months.
Construction of the 235 m long tunnel that will pierce the side of Mt Messenger will begin in February 2024 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2025.
The bypass that will run between Uruti and Ahititi is scheduled to be completed in 2026.
However, Waka Kotahi’s Chris Nally stressed that the data are estimates and could be affected by weather or tunnel construction.
“I think most people understand that.”
He said the area could receive a lot of rainfall and most work would be done during “construction season” in the drier months of the year.
Nally said while experts surveyed the area to be tunnelled, they couldn’t be quite sure what they were facing until they got to work.
The bypass has a constant width throughout the route with no obstructions in the middle. There will also be areas to stop and stop.
Discussion of landowners Tony and Debbie Pascoe and the Poutama Trust campaigning to have the bypass pass through Pascoe land has been kept to a minimum due to ongoing legal issues.
However, Nally said the cable car would allow them to start building the parts of the bypass that they currently have access to.
What will happen to the current Mt Messenger route once the bypass opens is yet to be decided.
Nally said the road would need to be used by a landowner and pest control and maintenance teams.
“But it won’t be State Highway 3 anymore.”
Environmental manager Roger MacGibbon said the project would bring massive environmental benefits.
There will be a pest control program covering 3650ha on both sides of the bypass and 250km of pest traps and bait lines placed every 100-150m.
Initial route cutting will employ 20 to 30 full-time employees, which will shrink to 12 to 20 full-time positions as the trapping infrastructure is built.
The conservation program is here to stay, and the alliance estimates the kiwi population could increase by more than 1,200 birds in 30 years.
Radio collars have identified about five to six Kiwis living in areas that overlap the bypass route.
MacGibbon said if a Kiwi got in the way of crews, they would stop work until it moved on.
A small number of long-tailed bats also inhabit the area.
MacGibbon said a surveillance team would advance ahead of the tree-cutting crews for a few days to make sure no bats were roaming.
Flaps are placed on holes in the trees to prevent bats from entering.
The completed project will include two bridges – one 125m long and another 30m long – and will have a crest height of 110m above sea level, 65m lower than the current route.
With a maximum gradient of 7.5%, it will also be less steep than the existing road, which has gradients of up to 12%.
Motorists driving across the mountain have been warned to expect delays of up to 1.5 hours when work begins on Monday.
The delays will continue until this Thursday, when a full-day closure will come into effect, and stop/go traffic management will apply from Friday, May 20th until mid-June.