Race to finish Transmission Gully: Waka Kotahi NZTA brings in experts and independent chair

Waka Kotahi, the NZ Transport Agency, has brought in extra experts, including an independent chairperson, in the race to get outstanding resource consent requirements signed off for Transmission Gully to open on time.

The troubled $1.25 billion road project has already been the subject of budget blowouts, delays, and bailouts.

Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) has raised the latest red flag in a new report, which was considered by the council’s Environment Committee today.

It says there’s a risk the project’s partners will not meet the requirements for the road to legally open on time.

The four-lane motorway 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.

Sign-offs on 41 outstanding tasks are needed to meet environmental consent conditions, the report said.

The list relates to issues around sedimentation and stormwater control, which will present an immediate environmental risk if they are not addressed correctly.

GWRC environmental regulation manager Shaun Andrewartha said council officials had met with Waka Kotahi yesterday and would do so again tomorrow.

“This is obviously evolving by the minute, let alone hour and day, and it’s changing all the time.”

Waka Kotahi had brought in experts in the past few months to help organise and communicate the requirements, GWRC officials told councillors.

A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said the Transmission Gully team had included environmental and planning expertise throughout the project.

“We have added more expertise as construction has progressed.”

Additionally, in February, Waka Kotahi engaged an independent chairperson.

That person’s role is to manage a working group to assist the parties to develop the list of necessary tasks to ensure compliance with the Resource Management Act, prioritise actions, and report progress to management, the spokesperson said.

The builder will be liable for $250,000-a-day in damages if the road doesn’t open on time.

Furthermore, $7.5 million of a $145.5m settlement covering the cost impacts of Covid-19 will not be paid out if the road is late.

GWRC chairman Daran Ponter asked council officials at the committee meeting today whether these incentives to finish the road on time were standing in the way of the council doing its job as an environmental regulator.

“There seems to be a perverse incentive in terms of environmental outcomes for this project”, Andrewartha answered.

“The RMA sanctions that we’ve got are not up to the standard of $250,000 a day,” he said.

Councillor Jenny Brash sought assurances the builder would not be allowed to cut corners, in relation to the environment, to get the road open on time.

Officials said the council was doing everything within its powers to prevent that from happening.

They are monitoring the site every week and there are currently about 60 consent breaches, incidents/failures, and unconsented activities under investigation.

Councillor Roger Blakeley was concerned about risk.

“What is the risk to the council that we might get the blame? Let’s say for any overshoot of the delivery of the projects and cost to the contractor in terms of quite large sums of money.”

Environment management group general manager Al Cross said that remained to be seen.

“I think that’s an outstanding risk if the builder doesn’t reach road opening on time. There is a risk they will look at other parties in the system and there may be impacts on the builder that they may want to see redressed.”

Blakeley asked Transmission Gully to be put on the council’s risk register.

“This has got to be one of the biggest risks for the council right now.”

The committee chairwoman, councillor Penny Gaylor, asked for another report on the matter for the committee’s next meeting on September 16.

“It will only be 11 days before they’re opening so by then we’ll need to know if we need to pitch in for the working bee.”

Officials will also be updating councillors every two weeks, or more frequently if necessary, via email.

Wellington Gateway Partnership chief executive Sergio Mejia said this week that the business would 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.”

Construction of the motorway was 98 per cent complete, Mejia said.

The Waka Kotahi spokesperson said it was up to the partnership and joint venture to demonstrate they have met a range of specified conditions for road construction.

“Which will then require sign off from Greater Wellington Regional Council as the environmental regulator before the necessary consents can be issued to allow the motorway to legally open”, the spokesperson said.

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