Earthworks have begun ahead of a likely green light in June for completion of Hamilton’s ring road.
The final 400 metre stage of the arterial route will see Wairere Drive connect with Cobham Drive to conclude a remarkable journey that has been more than 60 years in the making.
The go-ahead for the final stage, south of Cambridge Road, has Hamilton City Council support and is all but certain once the 10-Year Plan is complete.
That’s partly because the NZ Transport Agency will fund more than its customary 51 percent of the project, in recognition of its value to the state highway network.
Council’s city development manager Andrew Parsons says the Transport Agency will contribute $18m to the partnership project.
The intersection will have multiple on and off-ramps and walking and cycling paths, and will see Cobham Drive raised to allow Wairere Drive to pass under it. It is future-proofed to connect with proposed roading networks south of the city.
Meanwhile, the council has been using the tail end of summer to get major earthworks done on the south side of Cobham Drive.
New stormwater pipes will be drilled and jacked under Cobham Drive, and there will also be some land recontouring.
Completion of the final piece in the ring road puzzle is “critical” for the city to make it more efficient and safer to get around, and to support future growth, said Parsons.
If the full project gets council approval, the construction project will go out to tender in time for a summer start.
“It means the main contractor would turn up on site with it basically prepared for them,” Parsons said.
It will take more than one summer to complete, with finish date at least a couple of years off, but when Wairere Drive reaches Cobham Drive, the city will have a 24 kilometre circuit around the city.
The full route takes in Wairere Drive to the east, Cobham Drive to the south and the SH1 corridor on the west.
It can be traced to a grand plan for a motorway from Auckland to Hamilton which was touted as far back as the 1950s. Work began north of Hamilton in the early 1970s but was soon brought to a halt by the oil crisis. The land that was ultimately to become the Fairview Downs section of the ring road, and which had been intended as part of the motorway, lay as a green strip of pasture for the intervening decades.
Planners were concerned not just with the proposed motorway but with its links to the growing city’s arterial routes. One milestone arrived at the end of the 1960s. The Hamilton Transportation Study laid down a blueprint for roading in the city that was to prove remarkably resilient. It included a network of arterial routes that were to link to the motorway. Corridors were identified and protected that made the future road building possible.
Much of the recent development has been on the eastern side of the river. The western arterial route was laid down in earlier decades, particularly after the Second World War. Many of those roads were developed with limited access, and all were built wide enough to allow for four lanes of traffic and are now part of the nearly completed ring road.
The first major speed bump had been the oil crisis in the 1970s. In 1984, the developing ring road hit its second speed bump. It was played out on the pages of the Waikato Times.
“Principal condemns highway” was the headline which greeted the newspaper’s readers on October 8, 1984. Plans for a temporary state highway in Hamilton’s eastern suburbs looked set to “spark an uprising”, according to the newspaper. The temporary highway was intended for the corridor formed by Hukanui Road, Peachgrove Road and Galloway Street, as plans for a Taupiri-Rototuna link were revived. Opponents pointed out the route took in several schools, rest homes, shopping centres and two sets of doctors’ rooms.
Hamilton Residents’ Council president Martin Gallagher chaired a public meeting at Fairfield Intermediate in opposition to the plans. It was packed with more than 500 people, some jammed against the walls and some sitting on the floor. They were described by the Waikato Times as a “heckling, jeering crowd”.
Just over a week later, on October 17, following a further protest and the presentation of a 10,410 signature petition, the City Council fell into line. It resolved to tell the National Roads Board that it supported the Taupiri link and an eastern arterial bypass but that it also supported local opposition to the proposed staging of the link and temporary use of city streets as a highway.
It marked the beginning of a new approach to road planning in Hamilton. By April 1986, a discussion paper prepared as part of the Hamilton Arterial Roading Study referred to the need to take the public along.
When Pukete Bridge, a key element in the ring road, was built across the Waikato River in the mid-1990s, the public was involved through articles in local media and consultation meetings. The city’s sixth traffic bridge was opened on October 20, 1996. On that day, up to 15,000 swarmed across the bridge by foot before it was opened for traffic at 5.15pm.
It was in stark contrast to the opening, 33 years earlier, of the ring road’s other link across the river, Cobham Bridge. That occasion, on June 29, 1963, was marked by pomp and circumstance, with dignitaries seated on a dais and a brass band playing.
Once Pukete Bridge was opened, there was gradual development of the route through to Tramway Road.
A significant staging post was reached in October 2012, with the opening of the Fairview Downs section of Wairere Drive at the same time that Pukete Bridge was being four-laned, part of an $84 million project, at the time the council’s largest ever. It had been enabled by NZTA paying the full amount up front, with the council paying back its 49 percent share over several years.
Still ahead of the council and its contractor, Downer, were several linked stretches that would carry traffic all the way to Cambridge Road.
For the following stages, the designers had to allow for a green belt running along the eastern side of the route, restricting the road to two lanes in places. The earliest plan, for a motorway, would have seen the green belt eaten up by tarmac, but the intervening years had seen a fundamental change, with the ring road serving to move traffic around the city, and the expressway acting as a bypass.
Progress was rapid on the remaining sections of Wairere Drive. The section from Ruakura Road to Clyde Street opened in May 2014 and the section from Clyde Street to Cambridge Road quickly followed, opening in early September. Meanwhile, Downer also four-laned the 550 metre section from River Road to Resolution Drive.
After decades of planning and development, there remains just the final 400 metre link to complete, along with future connections to the Waikato expressway.
Gallagher, now deputy mayor, said he’s delighted to be part of a council that has voted for the completion of the route but added there’s still work to be done, particularly when it comes to getting heavy traffic off residential streets.
He said when he campaigned back in 1984, he hadn’t appreciated how much Hamilton’s population and private car ownership would grow, along with housing density.
“All of those factors place incredible extra pressure on our transport network,” he said.
“As a young man as president of the Residents’ Council, I probably didn’t reflect strongly enough on the need for the public transport side of that. I thought that just doing the ring road would solve the problem of taking traffic and heavy trucks off our residential streets but I now realise it’s only one part of the equation.”
He welcomes the link the new overpass will create between Hamilton Gardens and the eastern town belt, but said there is still work to do to make sure the land titles get rejoined with the rest of the reserve and avoid piecemeal development.
Meanwhile, Dave Macpherson, chair of the council Growth and Infrastructure Committee, said he was “amazed” when he got on to council to see that the whole route for the ring road was already in place.
“I can’t think of another council that would have done that. I think we’re unique – we didn’t have to bowl a single house to put that ring road through.”
Ring road Facebook page won awards
Almost six months into the Fairview Downs section of the ring road project, in June 2011, the council set up a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HamiltonRingRoad) to engage with residents.
The page was run by Brandy Smith from Downer, and she has a knack for engaging her readers. In between posts giving roadworks updates, including notification of closures, she also used the page to cheer on the likes of the Chiefs, as well as urging driver safety and answering reader questions. The page had more than 2000 likes at any one time, and from the city council’s point of view was an overwhelming success with its ability to keep residents in the picture.
Its success was recognised when the project won the ”Best Use of Social Media in Local Government” award at the Association of Local Government Information Management (ALGIM ) annual conference in May 2013.
What does it take to run a successful social media page?
Brandy says she had no training. “I just did what felt right. I’ve made bad calls along the way but have made many more good ones. It’s still a learning journey, that’s for sure.
“You need to connect on a personal level, not a robotic one, be professional but relaxed and it is important not to engage in any negativity or online arguments – there’s a time and place and this isn’t it. It’s also important to have a policy in place for when things do get negative. Most people just want to be heard, you need to put yourselves in their shoes and be willing to acknowledge their complaints. Sometimes nothing can be done but in many cases something can. You have to listen to all feedback, good or bad.”
Brandy signed off this year, pointing readers to the Hamilton City Council Facebook page for future ring road updates. She wrote her final post, with characteristic warmth, at 10.59 on February 21: “This page is signing off but it’s been a great ride with you all. Drive safe Hamilton! ~B”