With a barely perceptible rumble the machine that will chew through nearly 5km of earth in Auckland was launched this morning.
Fortunately for those involved in the construction of the $1.4 billion Waterview Connection motorway the massive tunnel boring machine started first time.
At an on-site ceremony dignitaries including Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland mayor Len Brown were on hand to give ''Alice'' a send off.
But the honour of actually pressing the ignition went to South Auckland boy Branden Hall, 10, who won the competition to name giant machine.
The moment represented a significant event in New Zealand's infrastructure history - more than 50 years after the idea of a western ring route to link the Northwestern and Southwestern motorways was conceived.
''Auckland has for decades had a plan to have the city better connected and it's all been done a bit piecemeal, so this is a significant step forward,'' Brownlee said.
And despite census data showing the city is not growing as fast as thought it is still critical to proceed with major projects like the Waterview Connection, he said.
''I take the view that that sort information is interesting but if we actually have the infrastructure it makes life easier and we will be ahead of the curve when we do get that population growth.''
Brown said the western ring route has been part of the city's thinking since the 1950s so it was good to be at this point almost ''70 years down the track''.
''It's the first of three tunnel boring machines I would like to see used in Auckland, I'd like to recycle it into the City Rail Link and the second harbour crossing.''
The machine will bore two 2.4km tunnels, both wide enough for three lanes of traffic in each direction.
It will spend the next year heading north at depths of up to 45m before being spun around for the return journey.
As it progresses it will install more than 24,000 precast concrete segments that will line the tunnels.
Drilling in earnest will begin in the next week once final preparations are made.
NZTA Auckland and Northland highways manager Tommy Parker says the fun is about to begin.
The tunnel is set to open in 2017.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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