Congratulations to the NZTA and the team building the Waterview connection after Alice the tunnel boring machine broke through for the second tunnel this morning. There is still a lot of work to do to finish the tunnels such as digging the cross passages and building the actual roads but it is an important milestone. Regardless of your views of the project it is an impressive bit of engineering, especially just how accurate they are able to be.

Alice, the giant Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) has today successfully completed excavation of the second motorway tunnel on Auckland’s Waterview Connection motorway project.

One of the largest TBM’s ever used in the Southern Hemisphere broke through into daylight after its 2.4km-long journey underground between the suburbs of Waterview and Owairaka.

“Today’s breakthrough is a massive milestone for a project that will transform the way Aucklanders get around their city – a brilliant and remarkable effort and a proud day that needs to be celebrated,” says the NZ Transport Agency’s Highways Manager in Auckland, Brett Gliddon.

Around 800 staff and contractors who’ve been working hard to deliver the project, stopped work this morning to watch the breakthrough together, live on specially erected screens and celebrate their success so far.

“The risks associated with constructing tunnels twice as long as the Auckland Harbour Bridge were always high and the Waterview team rightly needs to be congratulated for its engineering skills and innovation to complete this job safely and on time. That’s a fantastic achievement.”

The $1.4bn Waterview Connection is New Zealand’s largest ever roading project. It includes construction of twin 3-lane tunnels – the longest road tunnels in the country – and a giant interchange to connect Auckland’s Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (State Highways 16 and 20).

The project is being delivered for the Transport Agency by the Well-Connected Alliance.

Tunnelling at Waterview first began in 2013. The first tunnel was completed in September 2014. In a rare manoeuvre for any TBM worldwide, Alice was then turned 180 degrees to complete her second drive.

“The project’s careful and detailed design, planning and operation for the construction of the tunnels and the complex turnaround grabbed some pretty amazing headlines in New Zealand and overseas,” Mr Gliddon says.

During her time underground, Alice excavated enough dirt to fill 320 Olympic-sized swimming pools and installed more than 24,000 concrete segments to line both tunnels.

The TBM’s job is now complete. Over the coming months Alice will be taken apart and returned to the German company, Herrenknecht, that designed and built her.

“Although it’s the end of the road for Alice she will leave behind a lasting legacy – the world class tunnels she helped construct that will benefit Auckland and New Zealand for 100 years and more,” Mr Gliddon says.

Meanwhile, there is a busy programme of work to complete both tunnels. Sixteen cross passages linking the two tunnels are being constructed, equipment to safely operate the tunnels together with lighting and signage are being fitted, walls and the ceiling are being painted, and back-filling continues before the motorway asphalt is laid.

The Transport Agency plans to open the tunnels and the adjacent Great North Road Interchange in early 2017.

The Waterview Connection completes Auckland’s Western Ring Route, a 48km alternative route to SH1. It will link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and the North Shore, improving network resilience, travel time reliability and bus shoulder lanes as well as upgrading cycleway and pedestrian facilities.

The Waterview Connection project is being delivered by the Well-Connected Alliance which includes the Transport Agency, Fletcher Construction, McConnell Dowell, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Beca Infrastructure, Tonkin & Taylor and Japanese construction company Obayashi Corporation. Sub-alliance partners are Auckland-based Wilson Tunnelling and Spanish tunnel controls specialists SICE.

I am looking forward to the project being finished for a number of reasons – not least of which is the project effectively marks the practical completion of the Auckland motorway network. The idea of “completing the motorway network” is one that has been around for a long time and work on the motorways came at the expense of all other modes for many decades. With Waterview completed I hope we can then start focusing even more on completing our majorly incomplete networks such as our rapid transit and cycle networks.

Of course focusing so much on the motorways was never meant to be the plan. Those that originally dreamt up the motorways also came up with a region wide rapid transit network and even saying it should be built first otherwise the city would end up congested. Unfortunately it seems that part of the report was filed at the back of a drawer somewhere and forgotten, the motorways progressed and congestion ensued.

De Leuw Cather_Highway Report

De Leuw Cather Report 1965: Rapid Transit plan for Auckland
De Leuw Cather Report 1965: Rapid Transit plan for Auckland

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  1. Anyone have video?

    Yes…it would have been nice had transport history unfolded as recommended rather than the crippled version Citizen & Ratepayers inflicted on Auckland…..further degraded by the “market forces” neo-liberalism of the 1980s / 90s.

    It does make one angry to think about it too much. But the people who knew better somehow failed to communicate that to voters…….though if the Herald was campaigning against it (I don’t know if they did or didn’t) that would have been pretty hard to overcome.

  2. Colour me surprised that it takes >15 months from now to turn these completed tunnels into roads. Especially as in previous videos it looks like they’ve already been backfilling the tunnel dug first to create a road surface. Does anyone have a good explanation for why it takes so long from here? It often seems to me that there’s an inefficiency in different parts of our construction sector that means buildings and infrastructure take much longer than they should here.

    1. The tunnels aren’t completed, there a 16 more side tunnels that need to be tunneled. Then elevated inside the tunnels 3 lane roadways need to be hoisted.

      1. I really have no way of telling if that’s 6 months work or 16. Side tunnels seem like access shafts that should be fairly quick / simple to drill / excavate. I’ll have to get a construction project manager to explain it all to me sometime.

        1. In addition there will be a significant amount of electrical and mechanical systems to be installed and commissioned before the tunnels can be opened.

          1. @Simon – check out wikipedia on “Gotthard Base Tunnel” – 57 km tunnel under the Alps in Switzerland. Work begun in 1996. Excavation started in 2004 and finished in 2011. in 2014 testing of infrastructure and ancillary systems started in part of the tunnel, while the rest is still being furbished. It’s scheduled to open to public in June 2016. So the 2017 opening date of our tunnel is very reasonable in perspective 😉

    1. Yup; we’re done.

      Time to disband NZTA’s highway planning team and replace them with transportation planners able to work in every mode. As the job ahead is to add the missing networks to complement our lavish motorway system and I fear the drive of those there to do what they’ve always done is too great…. New age; new skills required.

    2. Anyone other than me disappointed to hear that Alice is being sent away? Seems short sighted that they don’t have another project lined up ready to go. Its probably too large for the CTRL tunnels, but surely we will have other projects sitting waiting?

      1. Alice is being sent away to be melted down for another TBM. She is worn out and couldn’t tunnel much further.

        By design TBMs are designed to tunnel as far as needed, no more no less. Normally TBMs like Alice are simply entombed adjacent to the tunnel they’ve dug.
        This is the fate of the ones used in the Channel Tunnel and elsewhere.

        In Alice’s case, the supplier is buying her back for scrap [as a courtesy to the NZ Govt I gather].

        1. TBMs generally have a lifetime of 15-25km, but are often left in the ground because the cost to dig them out is greater than the resale value (this applies to projects like subways where the end point of the tunnel is still underground, unlike the Waterview project).

          Anyhow, Alice is massive at 14m in diameter, and the TBMs used for the CRL will be considerably smaller (maybe around 6-7m?).

      2. Also even if it could be reused, the last thing we want is any excuse for yet another $4+ billion spent on a massive motorway widening and tunnelling binge in Auckland.

    1. There was a very similar De Leuw Cather & Co report done at the same time for Wellington, saying similar things, like “it is vital to extend the heavy rail system through the CBD prior to 1986!”.
      We’re 30 years behind the times here, too.

  3. I think Alice was designed for basalt as well as sandstone, but I believe it encountered sandstone only, piece of cake to bore through, but pig of stuff to handle.
    CRT will probably be going through the same conditions for much of its journey.

  4. I don’t think this “completion of the Auckland motorway network” means the end of motorway building for Auckland. Look at what is coming: Next Harbour Crossing, Puhoi to Wellsford, East-West link, Penlink, widening of Northern motorway & Southern motorway, AMETI, etc. NZTA are tasked with road building, not transport planning (that’s the role of our Minister of Transport).

    1. They won’t even start thinking about it until 2020 unless rail patronage and CBD employment jump through certain hoops which were never intended to be achievable.

  5. Why would the tbm be completely scraped, when they can just replace all bearings motors pumps other hydrolic parts and the whole cutting head and a coat of paint and she’s brand new again.
    I can see 100s of project’s in Auckland alone that could do with a tbm the size of alice. Including rail.

    1. The tunnel boring machine cost $55 million out of a total project budget of $1.4 billion. The savings you could make by refurbishing the machine – setting aside the question of whether that would make sense from a technical perspective – would be pretty minuscule in the context of a big construction project.

      1. Especially as now the TBM is worth $10m. Certainly shouldn’t start on any new multibillion dollar boondoggles for the sake of ten mil.

    2. It is way too big for rail tunnels which only needs about 7m TBM/s. Even if you could use Alice (which is designed for a specific task and rock condition) they would be excavating way more rock than they need to all of which has a cost and the extra truck trips are likely to cost way more than the cost of just getting a purpose built TBM

  6. I can’t help but snark at

    “a project that will transform the way Aucklanders get around their city”.

    It’ll transform the way we get around our city – yeah, well, we’ll still be driving everywhere, just on different roads!

    1. Yes there is no transformation here; this is extension, or reinforcement of the current pattern. ‘Transformation’ like ‘disruption’, is an overused term, but a scarce event. Transformational infrastructure is powerful and hard to get done in our change-phobic society. And it is easy to spot a truly transformational project by how contested and mis-understood it is. Anything that really changes things dramatically will be feared and, to many, unimaginable.

      But it’s great if the Minister and others are saying they want transformational transport infrastructure, as they always require leadership to deliver them, and the timing is now perfect for this young city to add new layers.

      And we do currently have not one but two transformational projects poised to start: SkyPath and CRL….

      1. I don’t know if SkyPath is really “transformational” either – rather, it’s something banal and ordinary that should have happened in 1959.

        After all, being able to walk across the Mangere and Greenhithe Bridges isn’t exactly the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if we’re going to build giant motorways and promote sprawl, the very least we can do is make sure it’s still *possible* to walk and bike. I’ll definitely appreciate it, even if it doesn’t change a huge deal.

        The CRL is the real revolution for Auckland though, which is why it’s rightly been the No. 1 cause for this blog since pretty much Josh’s first day of it.

      1. Yes there are indeed transformations that are not built infrastructure at all; HOP is one which we are still in the middle of; it will only be complete with fare integration and hopefully time-of-day pricing. The Transit version of road pricing.

        Road pricing is another, but a Peter says, seems too frightening for the establishment.

  7. If you’ve read anything about the disastrous Seattle tunnelling project (or other boondoggles like Boston’s “Big Dig”), one of the most impressive things about the project is that it seems to have proceeded smoothly, on time and on budget, with no unanticipated interruptions.

    1. I think there is a real opportunity for Simon Bridges to bring NZTA’s very real project management skills to the CRL. To announce, with the funding that they’ve already agreed to but are as yet to identify, that they are accelerating the project.

      That would be a real win/win for the government.

      Is it possible? Can they bring forward the main tunnelling work to start sooner? Is there a possible short cut to the commissioning of the TBM or TBMs? Is there experience from the Waterview team that can transform the timeline for this transformational project? Or are they all going straight on to the retrogressive and anti-transformational [as currently designed] AWHC project?

  8. Another Alice TBM will be at the Domain this weekend !

    Alice will be a lean, mean, drilling machine. Built for speed, not even the drag factor of the elevated stove-pipe hats of the two Isambard Kingdom Brunel look-a-likes will slow it down. If our brakes fail, we will be sending Auckland Council a bill for creating the new Waitemata Harbour crossing; albeit a few km to the East of where they thought they wanted it.

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