New Zealand
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First section of Puhoi to Warkworth motorway open for motorists

A small scretch of the new Puhoi to Warkworth motorway extension is partially open to northbound traffic from Hibiscus coast highway to Puhoi turnoff. Video / Brett Phibbs

A small scretch of the new Puhoi to Warkworth motorway extension is partially open to northbound traffic from Hibiscus coast highway to Puhoi turnoff. Video / Brett Phibbs

Motorists are finally getting to drive on the new Puhoi to Warkworth highway, with the opening of a small section north of the Johnstones Hill tunnels.

For the past week, northbound traffic on the Hibiscus Coast Highway has merged onto the motorway, travelling across the impressive Arawhiti ki Ōkahu viaduct before getting off at Puhoi and back onto SH1.

On June 13, traffic travelling in both directions through the Johnstones Hill tunnel will join Hibiscus Coast Highway traffic on the section of the new motorway named Ara Tūhono, or "connecting path".

For safety reasons, there will be a 60km/h speed limit on the section until the whole project opens.

The New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi is being cagey about when the 18.5km motorway will be fully open, saying only it will open between January 1 and December 31 next year.

It was meant to open late last year, but following Covid-19 the date has been pushed back twice to Queens Birthday Weekend this year and to next year.

Former prime minister Sir John Key turned the first sod on the project in December 2016 and when finished the motorway will chop 11 minutes off the current route and be a much safer and reliable drive for the 24,000 vehicles who use the road every day.

The drive north to Warkworth will feature natural forms, a kauri reserve at bridge level looking down on the Puhoi River, 50m-high cut slopes with layers of rock forms breaking out to valley views - all following a curved pathway.

Fifteen silhouette artworks sit north of the Arawhiti ki Ōkahu viaduct, which Hōkai Nuku chair Mook Hohneck said are a visible reminder of the cultural footprint to mana whenua and tupuna/ancestors.

Waka Kotahi general manager transport services Brett Gliddon said extended Covid-19 lockdowns coupled with ongoing supply chain constraints have caused significant delays.

Under the terms of the private-public partnership (PPP) between the Northern Express Group (NX2) and Fletcher/Acciona, the road opening will be decided by NX2 and an independent reviewer being satisfied that all safety and quality tests have been met.

Talks are also taking place between the partners over costs attributed to Covid-19 and what the contractors are entitled to. The motorway has already risen in cost from $710 million to $880m.

Auckland Transport planning and investment general manager Jenny Chetwynd said the motorway will play a pivotal role in supporting Auckland's economy and quality of life.

The motorway will bypass the booming town of Warkworth, forecast to grow from about 5000 residents to more than 25,000 over the next 25 years.

Meanwhile, Waka Kotahi says the 22km Hamilton bypass running east of the city at a cost of $637m, is due to open in July.

Once the bypass and the Puhoi to Warkworth projects are completed, motorists will have a clear 200km run from Warkworth to south of Cambridge on SH1.