Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency board chairman Sir Brian Roche says he's "extremely disappointed" the builder contracted to deliver the long-awaited Transmission Gully project has run out of time to finish the job in time for Christmas.
The 27-kilometre-long road, which connects the Kāpiti Coast to Pāuatahanui - north of Wellington - was first mooted in 1919. Work began in 2015 and the road was due to open in April 2020.
Last year’s Covid-19 lockdown and contractual negotiations pushed the deadline out to September 27, but Waka Kotahi said at the time that the most recent nationwide lockdown had pushed things back again.
However, construction work has been progressing since the site was reopened after the August lockdown.
In a statement on Monday, Waka Kotahi said it was now in commercial discussions to determine how much of the delay is due to the most recent lockdown and other Covid-19 restrictions, and the financial implications of this.
"We have been pushing very hard for the Transmission Gully motorway to open to the public as soon as possible and we made our expectations clear to WGP (Wellington Gateway Partnership) and CPB HEB (Joint Venture, the builder contracted to deliver the Transmission Gully project) that we wanted this to be before Christmas," Roche said in the statement.
"With many outstanding issues yet to be addressed, tests to be met and consent tasks to complete, there is a lack of sufficient assurance that road opening pre-Christmas is achievable.
"We are extremely disappointed that the road will not be open before the Christmas holidays. Like everyone else, we are frustrated by the delays and lack of certainty about when the road will be able to open and while we can't yet say when it will be, we can be certain that it won’t be this year."
Roche added that "it may in fact be some time before all the safety and quality assurance tests required in the contract are met".
Waka Kotahi Transport Services general manager Brett Gliddon said achieving a pre-Christmas opening had been dependent on the road’s builder, CPB HEB, meeting the contractually agreed requirements to ensure the road is safe for motorists and completed to a high standard.
He said an independent reviewer was appointed by both Public Private Partnership (PPP) parties, Waka Kotahi and WGP, to check the tests had been met.
"Based on the information we have, and advice from the Independent Reviewer, we do not have sufficient assurance that all the tasks still needing to be finished to ensure the road is safe and reliable on an enduring basis, can be completed between now and Christmas," Gliddon said.
"Waka Kotahi has been working with WGP and CPB HEB to determine how best to address some of the outstanding issues in order to get the road open to the public as quickly as possible while ensuring the enduring safety and quality of the road is not compromise."
As of December 10, out of 100 safety and quality assurance tests that need to be met before the road can safely and legally open, 41 final test submissions have been received from CPB HEB, of which 34 have been accepted by the independent reviewer as meeting the required specifications.
As well, of the 45 consent tasks that need to be complete in order for the road to open, as of December 3, 17 had been completed and 26 are underway and have been progressed to varying degrees and two are not yet started.
While some of these are well advanced and will be completed soon, a fully functioning stormwater system, capable of treating road run-off water to the required standard must be operational for road opening.
"Transmission Gully is New Zealand’s first transport infrastructure project being delivered under a PPP. The terms of the contract are very strict, both for the build phase and the operation and maintenance of the road," Gliddon said.
"This is how we ensure we are getting what we are paying for in terms of quality, safety and performance over the period of the contract. At the end of the 25-year operating period, the road passes to Waka Kotahi."