Sunday, 7 Aug 2022

Analysis: Transmission Gully parties position for blame game


There’s enough doubt over Transmission Gully opening on time that the parties involved have started positioning themselves for a blame game.

The latest in what is shaping up to be a suspenseful race to finish the $1.25 billion road out of Wellington is an alarm sounding at the regional council.

Yesterday the Herald revealed a Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) report has raised concerns about the number of outstanding resource consent requirements for the 27 kilometre road.

There are 41 tasks that need signing off and the report says there’s a risk the project’s partners will not meet these requirements for the road to legally open on time.

GWRC chairman Daran Ponter said it was touch and go.

“At this juncture, I would have to say that I’m nervous.”

The report will be considered by regional councillors at an Environment Committee meeting tomorrow.

It doesn’t need a vote; it is an update and summary of the situation. In other words, it has very deliberately been put on a publicly available document.

The council is signalling less than seven weeks from the grand opening date of September 27 that there are problems.

The last thing the council wants is to be blamed for Transmission Gully opening late after the road’s history of budget blowouts, delays and bailouts.

The council is saying it will do its best within the time constraints it has been given.

A month ago Waka Kotahi NZTA sent a cryptic press release to manoeuvre on the issue of so much to do, so little time.

The release read like Waka Kotahi didn’t appear to share the confidence of those building Transmission Gully that the road will open when it’s meant to.

The four-lane motorway is being built by a public-private partnership (PPP), the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP), with CPB Contractors and HEB Construction sub-contracted to carry out the design and construction.

Early last month Waka Kotahi transport services general manager Brett Gliddon said the builder had made assurances construction was on track.

He said this was “in spite of” the short window of time remaining to carry out a significant amount of work needed to open the road.

“[There’s] a lot of work still to do in a relatively short space of time, in challenging winter conditions. That combination of factors means there continues to be a risk around achieving the agreed opening date.”

When asked this week about the 41 outstanding tasks for resource consent requirements, Waka Kotahi said it was up to the contractor and the builder to meet them.

The transport agency is all too aware of the high public expectation for the road to be opened as soon as possible, and preferably on time.

Again, the press release was a signalling exercise effectively saying all might not got to plan and that’s on the builder.

Meanwhile, the contractor and builder have been left to make assurances everything is on track.

Wellington Gateway Partnership chief executive Sergio Mejia said construction of the motorway was 98 per cent complete.

But he fell short of saying he was confident the road would open by the agreed date.

“We will not be bypassing any of the necessary sign-offs.Transmission Gully motorway will open as soon as all the necessary legal and contractual requirements are fulfilled,” he said.

The financial penalties for the builder are severe if the road isn’t open on time.

They’ll be liable for damages of more than $250,000 a day. Furthermore, $7.5m of a $145.5m settlement covering the cost impacts of Covid-19 will be paid only if the road is open on time.

Considering Transmission Gully’s track record, it’s not surprising the parties involved are preparing for the worst case scenario.

If September 27 comes around without a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the public will be looking for someone to blame.

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