Media release: Final checks and Alice ready for her massive journey

The NZ Transport Agency welcomes today’s official launch of the Waterview Connection’s giant tunnel boring machine, Alice, and says final checks are now underway before tunnelling starts next week.

Media release: Final checks and Alice ready for her massive journey
Final checks and Alice ready for her massive journey

"It's an exciting and huge milestone for New Zealand's largest ever roading project," says the Transport Agency's Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker. "It's taken 18 months and 2.5 million challenging work hours in some very demanding conditions to get everything ready, and when we've completed our final run-through, Alice will have her first encounter with real dirt next week."

The Minister of Transport, Hon. Gerry Brownlee, together with Auckland schoolboy Branden Hall – who won the naming competition for the machine – today switched on the machine's huge cutter head that will excavate the twin motorway tunnels for the $1.4b project.

Guests at the celebration included Auckland's mayor, Len Brown, elders from Ngati Whatua, and a kapa haka group from the one of the project's neighbours, Waterview Primary School.

After two ceremonial rotations of the cutter head, the machine was shut down for final preparations.

Mr Parker congratulated the Well-Connected Alliance – which is constructing the Waterview tunnels – for completing the project's most significant milestone "bang on target."

"The innovation and practise already in use on the construction site is attracting a lot of international attention - this is a New Zealand project on a world scale. Overseas interest in our project is reflected by our guests here today, which include senior executives from leading infrastructure companies in Germany, Japan and China."

The cutter head on Alice has an outside diameter of 14.46m, which makes her the 10th largest tunnel boring machine in the world.

The machine will bore two tunnels, 2.4 kilometres long and both wide enough for three lanes of traffic. The tunnels will connect the Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (State Highways 16 and 20) and complete the Western Ring Route, a motorway alternative to State Highway 1 through central Auckland.

Alice has to first push herself through a circle of soft concrete covering the tunnel portal before she starts excavating dirt. She will excavate down to a depth of 45 metres, travelling at a top speed of 8cm a minute – about as fast as a snail over the same distance. It will take a year to travel north from Owairaka to Waterview, where the machine will be dismantled, turned around, and re-assembled to excavate the second tunnel.

While she excavates, Alice will also install more than 24,000 precast concrete segments that will line the tunnels. The segments are being made at a purpose-built factory in East Tamaki.

It will take two years to excavate both tunnels. By the time Alice finishes her journey, she will remove more than 800,000 cubic metres of dirt – enough to fill 320 Olympic-size swimming pools. The soil will be trucked to a disused quarry at Wiri in south Auckland.

After excavation, the twin tunnels will be fitted out with lighting, ventilation and safety equipment before being opened to traffic in early 2017.

The Western Ring Route – a 47 kilometre-long motorway between Albany and Manukau – is one of the Government's seven roads of national significance, and Mr Parker says the Waterview Connection is the "last piece in the ring route puzzle" that when completed will help develop economic growth for Auckland and New Zealand.

"Certainly the CBD, the airport and those business hubs in the south and the west of the city will be better connected. Nationally, the Western Ring Route links with other highway improvements underway or planned to the city's north and south which will all combine to make those connections between Northland through Auckland and into Waikato and Bay of Plenty so much more efficient and reliable."

Mr Parker says the project strikes a balance between contributing to the economic development, and meeting the needs of the project's surrounding communities.

"In addition to local landscaping initiatives, the project will, in partnership with Auckland Council, also provide enhanced walking and cycleways and improved public transport connections."

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