Tolls of $2 for cars and up to $5 for trucks have been approved by the Government to kick-start the new $450 million motorway from Baypark to Paengaroa.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce today announced that the 17km of new road bypassing Te Puke would be tolled for up to 35 years.
It meant that construction of the new road could now start next year - about seven years earlier than if the Government had not opted for tolls to cover the $100 million funding shortfall.
Motorists will save up to 12 minutes in travel time each way when the new motorway opens in 2016.
The motorway is one of the Government's seven essential state highway projects linked to New Zealand's economic prosperity.
Mr Joyce said the project was driven by the pace of growth in the Bay and would kill three birds with one stone - it would improve access to the port, improve safety along one of New Zealand's most dangerous stretches of road, and allow development to go ahead alongside the new road.
The main developments were the massive residential expansion planned for Papamoa East out to the Kaituna River and the proposed Rangiuru Business Park.
Mr Joyce said it would also improve the quality of life for Te Puke residents, and the town would not look back from getting heavy traffic out of the main street.
The reality was that if the tolling proposal had been rejected during the community consultation phase of the project, then the $1 billion the Government was putting into highway construction each year would not have been enough to get the project started early next year. It would have been pushed back by projects with a greater need, such as completing the Waikato Expressway.
Mr Joyce said there had been 92 per cent support for tolls.
The New Zealand Transport Agency anticipated the Cabinet decision by calling for tenders for the 23km project which consists of widening the existing road from Baypark to Domain Rd and building a new four-lane motorway across farmland to Paengaroa.
Tenders have closed, with two New Zealand consortiums lodging design and build bids for the country's largest single roading contract. A decision on the successful tender will be announced in three months.
NZTA regional director Harry Wilson said the earlier the road was built, the better.
Te Puke's commercial and industrial growth had been constrained by the capacity of the existing highway.
"The solution was to bypass Te Puke and we are now delivering that."
An electronic tolling system using sensors mounted on an overhead gantry meant motorists would not have to stop to pay a toll.
The sensors will detect the size of the vehicle and photograph the number plate, allowing the bill to be sent to the owner.
NZTA state highways manager Rod James said that he was confident motorists would see the value in paying a toll, rather than sticking to the old route through Te Puke.
Apart from the the time saving, it would be much safer, with plenty of opportunities to pass.
It would be a clearer decision than whether to use Tauranga's current toll road - Route K.
"It is a very different project in terms of the benefits it provides."
Mr James said it was a win-win situation because the existing road would be considerably improved for those who still needed to use it.
Nearly all the properties along the route of the Eastern Link have been purchased, with negotiations continuing for the last four properties.
Mr James was hopeful they would not have to resort to the Environment Court, although construction could start regardless.