If once is a mistake and twice is a coincidence, by the time you get to four significant issues it’s indicative of a worrying trend.
Following a series of serious issues on the government’s flagship Roads of National Significance projects, I wonder if questions need to be asked of whether the NZTA have enough oversight over their processes and whether we’re being well served by the having the organisation act as both poacher and gamekeeper of transport funding.
First, let’s look at some of the issues that have cropped up.
- Late Sunday, Stuff.co.nz revealed that 14km of the 18km Kapiti Expressway, that only opened in February, will need to be resealed due to cracks appearing in the surface causing water to leak through to the road base. Taxpayers will have to share in the costs of the repair.
The slow lanes on the freshly minted Kāpiti expressway are leaking, and 14 kilometres of it will need resealing, the NZ Transport Agency has revealed.
Project delivery senior manager Chris Hunt said a fix would require resealing long stretches of the 18km expressway in both directions, and the agency would be footing its share of the bill.
The expressway, through the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington, started developing discoloured cracks only months after it opened in February.
- Just over a week earlier it was neighbouring project Transmission Gully that was in the headlines with news that the amount of earthworks that would be needed was 50% more than had been consented for. And this is for a project was already one of, if not the biggest in terms of the size of the earthworks needed.
The consortium behind the $850 million Transmission Gully motorway project north of Wellington has miscalculated the amount of earth it needs to shift by as much as 50 per cent.
Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP) has confirmed it is seeking new resource consents for an extra three million cubic metres of earthworks – but says the road will still open on schedule in April 2020.
WGP originally applied for consents for about 6m cubic metres of earthworks. The extra consenting costs are expected to total about $50,000, which was within the project’s budget, chief executive Sergio Mejia said on Thursday.
- It’s not just Wellington projects suffering these issues. As we know Waterview suffered some significant construction issues but perhaps more important was the revelation that the agency got the modelling wrong resulting in them deciding they needed to widen sections of SH20 under emergency before the tunnels opened.
- Construction issues also struck the Huntly Bypass last year after it was discovered some of the steel being used was deficient.
There appear to be more questions than answers at this point.
Issues during construction are expected but this feels beyond that. What’s causing all of these mega projects to have significant issues? Is it a lack of oversight from the NZTA on their own work? What impact has the governments push for these to be finished as soon as possible had on them? One thing that I did notice is that three of the four projects had poor business cases, while the fourth (Waterview) had a tough consenting process – being the first to use the accelerated Board of Inquiry process. Have these factors played a role leading to corners being cut?
We may never get answers to these and perhaps they are all a simple coincidence but I can’t help but wonder if we’d be better served by once again separating out the transport funding processes from our state road builder. Currently, Auckland Transport and other local body transport projects appear to be subjected to extreme scrutiny by the NZTA before they can obtain any funding while the NZTA appear to be able to get funding at the drop of a hat to fix issues like those above or to build projects that don’t pass even a basic business case. Having a separate and independent funding body, one that can hold organisations like the NZTA and AT to account for how they spend our money.
What’s more, separating the funding functions out again could be the perfect opportunity to make other much needed changes to the funding process. This could include things such as allowing for the National Land Transport Fund to also fund rail infrastructure and rebalancing how state and local roads are funded – by fully funding state highways but only providing 50% of funding for local projects, it has encouraged councils to treat SH upgrades as free money and push for those projects ahead of often more economically and socially important local projects.
With so many big projects still on the horizon, let’s hope these are the only issues.