THE Hunter Expressway is expected to transform traffic movements across the Hunter like never before.
Named the M15, the 40-kilometre expressway between Seahampton and Branxton is the region's largest road infrastructure project, and will cut up to 28 minutes off the commute between Newcastle and Branxton.
Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) data predicts between 15,000 and 30,000 vehicles will be taken off the New England Highway between Newcastle, Thornton, Maitland and Rutherford, and traffic congestion during morning and afternoon peaks will ease.
Project development north principal manager Colin Nunn said the expressway would remove a lot of heavy vehicles from the New England Highway, and provide a direct route between the Port of Newcastle and the Upper Hunter, northern and central NSW and central Queensland.
"It will reduce congestion in Branxton and near Maitland and improve traffic flow during the morning and afternoon peak periods," Mr Nunn said.
"It aims to provide a more direct and efficient route for the movement of freight . . . and provide a transport artery between the regional centre of Newcastle and urban growth centres in the Lower Hunter."
More than 5 million cubic metres of earth were moved during construction and more than 280,000 cubic metres of concrete paving and 288,000 tonnes of asphalt were used.
The road has 52 bridges, including three twin high bridges over the Sugarloaf Range, and six interchanges where vehicles can access the road at Newcastle, Buchanan, Kurri Kurri, Loxford, Allandale and Branxton.
The federal and state governments funded the $1.7 billion project in 2009. The federal government committed $1.5 billion and the state government funded the remaining $200 million.
Two tenders were awarded in 2010 because of the scale of the project.
The Hunter Expressway Alliance, made up of the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), Thiess, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Hyder Consulting, were given the 13-kilometre eastern section, and Lend Lease, formerly Abigroup Contractors, were awarded the western 27-kilometre section.
More than 10,000 people worked on the project over the past four years.
About 1500 workers were on site each day during peak construction in 2012 and 2013.
Project manager Tony Gant said it was an incredible experience for the whole team to work on the project.
"It's challenging, it's frustrating, it's exciting . . . It has been a real privilege to work with a fantastic team on this project," he said.
Contractors faced challenges in the eastern and western section.
In the eastern section, the bridges over the Sugarloaf Range and the bridge connecting the expressway to the M1 south-bound were the main obstacles.
In the western section of the expressway, contractors faced the challenge of building sections of up to 26 bridges at the same time to try to meet the project deadline.