Waikato Expressway: Longswamp section finally opening for Christmas motorists

A crucial section of one of New Zealand's major roading upgrades will open to four lanes this week after being dogged by delays.

Work began on the Longswamp section of the Waikato Expressway north of Huntly in July 2016, with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) working to expand the highway to four lanes. The 5.9km stretch runs between Hampton Downs and Rangiriri.

Construction was originally set to finish in early 2019, but delays caused by "unforeseen earthworks" and wet weather hampered work. Newshub reported earlier this year that a new deadline of spring had been set, but this was also missed.

On Wednesday, NZTA announced that all four lanes of the new section of road would be open to traffic later this week. 

However, there is a catch. 

While southbound traffic will be able to travel at 100km/h, final asphalting is yet to be completed on the northbound lanes. This means speed remains restricted to 70km/h. 

"We are very pleased to have Longswamp open on all four lanes before Christmas. We still have some final surfacing work to complete early next year but having holiday traffic spread across the new lanes has been a priority," said NZTA Waikato portfolio manager Darryl Coalter.

"This section of SH1 has long had a poor safety record, so this widening and barrier work provides huge benefits for road users.

"We have also removed sideroads and driveways from SH1, which means local people can come and go from their properties without interacting with state highway users."

Waikato Expressway: Longswamp section finally opening for Christmas motorists

Coalter acknowledged the patience of locals and highway users while construction was underway.

The road had become notorious with some drivers who complained about the lengthy construction. Locals were upset too, with one telling Newshub he wasn't sure why workers weren't working around the clock.

In November 2018, there was the full-time equivalent of 273 workers involved in construction across the two sections, working between 7am and 7pm Monday to Saturday.

NZTA said at the time that night work was avoided as there needed to be warm ground temperatures to help the chip seal set. 

The Rangiriri section of the highway just south of Longswamp was upgraded between January 2013 and April 2017. It also didn't meet its first deadline.