Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has initiated safety upgrade work at Southland’s Homer Tunnel on SH94 in New Zealand (NZ).

The NZD25m ($17.7m) safety upgrade is expected to provide an economic boost for the communities of Te Anau and Milford Sound Piopiotahi.

This July, the New Zealand Government agreed to fund this project to enhance the safety and resilience of Homer Tunnel, which first opened in 1953.

­Waka Kotahi’s Milford Road Alliance is said to have initiated ‘shovel-ready’ smaller safety improvements worth NZD3m ($2.1m).

The improvement work was initiated based on the recommendations of an investigation into a car fire in the tunnel at the beginning of this year.

So far, the alliance has upgraded the tunnel power system and installed new lighting and speakers inside the tunnel to communicate with people in emergency situations.

In addition, a new protected duct along the 1.2km tunnel will safeguard cabling, fibre, and other systems in the event of a fire.

Waka Kotahi System manager Graeme Hall said: “Whatever option is chosen, it will be large and complex work needing significant design, consenting and other approvals, and is likely to be delivered over a two to three-year period.”

The remaining NZD22m ($15.6m) funding will cover the costs for any one of the enhancements, namely a forced ventilation system, a deluge system and pedestrian refuges.

In 2021, a new lane will be constructed at the eastern tunnel traffic signal and advanced in-tunnel vehicle detection systems will be deployed.