No one should be surprised that Transmission Gully, the new 27km motorway out of Wellington, is being ripped up for repairs when it hasn’t even opened yet.
After all, the four-lane-highway has been plagued by flawed chipseal and water seeping through the road’s surface.
The Herald revealed these problems in December after independent inspection reports were released under the Official Information Act.
Yet, despite this information about the known defects being well publicised, a leaked letter has been circulating leading some to claim the road is ready to open.
If only one letter was enough to schedule a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Transmission Gully is being built through a public-private partnership (PPP), the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP), with CPB Contractors and HEB Construction subcontracted to carry out the design and construction
The letter was from expert transport engineer Jon England, dated December 10, which said he had inspected the road.
“It is my professional opinion that the Transmission Gully main alignment and lighting is in good and efficient repair, and may safely and conveniently be used for public traffic,” the letter said.
Waka Kotahi NZTA said the letter was a safety report required under the Government Roading Powers Act.
The inspection involves driving over the alignment to make sure there is nothing obviously unsafe. Its scope does not include things like checking the median barriers have been installed at the right height or certification of retaining walls and bridges.
It also doesn’t include making sure any outstanding construction defects are rectified.
That’s why there are 100 safety and quality assurance tests required for the road to open and the letter is just one of these tests which needs to be satisfied.
So the letter really cannot be considered in isolation if one wants to reach a conclusion as to whether the road is fit to be open.
Especially considering the pavement defects have now been dug up, meaning a new safety report will likely be required anyway.
This week Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency has released photos of the repairs, presumably to dispel claims the road is fit to be open to the public.
One photo show rollers at Transmission Gully last week doing remedial work to address the bleeding of the chipseal surface.
Another one shows milling and repair work underway over the weekend north of the Waitangirua Interchange.
A third photo shows the road being dug up to install a subsoil drain to manage water issues.
Waka Kotahi transport services general manager Brett Gliddon said several issues remained with both the asphalt and chipseal surfaces which required remedial work.
“Waka Kotahi can confirm that the issues are serious enough to have not yet met the safety and quality assurance tests relating to pavements and surfacing requirements for road opening.”
Waka Kotahi has not yet received an opening date, or a timeframe to complete the work required to open the road, from WGP or CPB HEB, Gliddon said.
There is now immense public pressure to get the road open as soon as possible.
Yesterday the region’s Chambers of Commerce issued a press release calling for an independent inquiry, despite the fact a review undertaken by Te Waihanga (the Infrastructure Commission) is already in play.
Preliminary findings of the review found serious flaws at the planning stage of the project, undermining the successful completion of the four-lane motorway.
“There have also been other issues and cost overruns during Transmission Gully’s construction and Wellingtonians’ deserve answers”, Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson said at the time the findings were released.
Te Waihanga has been directed to undertake a further review of the project after construction has been completed.
The road is clearly not currently fit to be open.
The last thing anyone wants is for it to open prematurely and then close again because it’s falling to pieces. Or even worse, taxpayers being on the hook for those costs.
While “contractually agreed safety and quality assurance tests” might sound boring, it’s important they are airtight when the road is handed over to Ventia, who will operate and maintain the motorway for 25 years after its built.
If those standards are not met, it’s ultimately the taxpayer who will be pouring even more money into Transmission Gully, which has already been the subject of several budget blowouts.
These tests and the resource consents needed for the road to open might feel like Government bureaucracy getting in the way of the road opening, but some of them are as tangible as the chipseal that 25,000 vehicles a day will eventually be driving on.
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