The cones and barriers were removed just over an hour ago and traffic was allowed on to the Huntly bypass section of the Waikato Expressway.

The $384 million Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway was officially opened in a ceremony on February 14, but it was off-limit to motorists while finishing work was completed.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency contractors removed cones and barriers from the country’s newest road just before noon today and traffic switched from the old State Highway 1 route via Huntly.

The 15km four-lane highway takes State Highway 1 east of Huntly town, across lowlands and streams and over Taupiri Range, which is sacred to Waikato-Tainui Māori.

Waka Kotahi Waikato Portfolio Manager Darryl Coalter says the Transport Agency is thrilled to see traffic flowing on the new highway, and thanks motorists for their patience while the finishing touches were applied to the new road.

“This project has been complex and challenging, but also hugely rewarding for all involved. It’s fantastic to have traffic using the road and we hope everyone will enjoy driving on it as much as we enjoyed building it.”

The Huntly section connects the completed expressway sections at Ohinewai in the north and the Ngaruawahia section at Gordonton Road in the south. It will bring major improvements in safety and efficiency, taking traffic away from the congestion point through Huntly, which has a poor safety record.

“The new road will provide people travelling through the Waikato on State Highway 1 with a safer, more reliable and more enjoyable journey,” Mr Coalter says.

Mr Coalter pointed to the support of iwi as critical to the success of the project.

“Without a strong relationship with Waikato-Tainui we could not have got this road built in such a culturally significant area. We’ve set out to recognize this cultural significance through pou and other artwork along the route, and the restoration of two former pa sites.”

This morning’s opening was preceded by two days of stakeholder and public events last month, with an iwi-led site blessing followed by a ribbon-cutting and lunch at Te Iringa Lagoon on February 14, and a chance for the public to walk, run, cycle and bus along the new road the following day. This included the Expressway Classic half-marathon.

The Huntly section is part of the 102km four-lane development of SH1, from Bombay to south of Cambridge, which will be completed when the 22km Hamilton section opens in late 2021. Once completed, the Waikato Expressway is expected to reduce travel times by 35 minutes between the Bombay Hills and south of Cambridge.