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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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39 comments

  1. If the Kapiti Expressway is only 8 months old, surely it’s still under warranty. Why should ratepayers have to pay for a contractor’s f-up?

    And more worryingly, why would a contractor want to build a quality project when they can build a faulty one and get paid again to fix it!

    Corrupt much?

      1. From experience, the way we set up contracts has a large impact on final deliverable.
        For example the Auckland Motorway Alliance (AMA) , is an alliance contract set up which works well due to all parties being responsible for the on going maintenance due to contract length (10 years).
        I feel if they had paid more attention / placed more onus on a longer term contract , we the taxpayers would feel a bit more comfortable now and the private entity’s would have constructed a less risky pavement.

        1. Yes, but the contracts all have a defects liability and maintenance period before its handed back to the NZTA or in Auckland Motorways cases the AMA. Not sure on what the standard period is, but in my experience its normally around 3-5years after practical completion.

          1. True, was the contract written with fair defects liability periods?
            My point was that if they are designing to “just good enough”, we don’t see durable long term solutions

          2. Cant answer that, but agree on your point. Normally design periods are 50years or 100years for structures. However I don’t personally know what pavement design life is. It would be much lower.

    1. As I understand, they (the alliance) took a risk on the pavement design and unfortunately that risk has turned into an issue.
      So there is no corruption, just an issue that needs to be dealt with

    2. There are many issues with Rons, as you say highways are prioritised above everything else. EW connection- how strong is that business case. only labour will fix this, national happy with the status quo of poor policy. Nzta needs to stick up against poor political decision making

  2. :..why would a contractor want to build a quality project when they can build a faulty one and get paid again to fix it..!”

    I think we have a winner.

    1. It’s an Alliance project, therefore the contractor shares in the loss/gains. NZTA is a party in the contract hence they will also incur costs of this. All projects have a maintenance period before they are handed back to the NZTA to fix defects such as this. In this case it seems these contracts are working.

      NZTA have personnel / management on site as well, so they are monitoring decisions and participate in the team delivering the project.

      1. Josh
        It still sounds like a fairly basic error in pavement or drainage design. Who approved it before building? And if it was an alliance, did NZTA share in the cost reduction when they finished early?

        1. Yes NZTA share in any ‘cost reduction’, by this I think you mean cost savings. Yes agree may be a basic design / construction / Geotechnical error. However I’m just pointing out the contractor is not paid again to fix it, they have to share in the costs to fix it.

  3. State Highway 20 is a joke. Heading towards the airport after exiting the tunnel the far left hand lane ends as an exit only to Maioro Street, leaving only 2 lanes (bottleneck), only for them to start the lane again under the Maioro overpass bridge?? Why couldn’t they just keep the lane? They have the space for it???

    Then, to make matters worse, the Maioro St on ramp heading towards the airport have 3 lanes that merge into one, that further merge into the newly created lane under the overpass bridge. Someone got paid money to design this section of motorway and it is a joke.

    Further down there is the biggest bottleneck where under the Hillsborough Road overpass bridge where the lanes merge from 3 into 2. The Hillsborough Rd on ramp re-creates the 3rd lane again. Genius!!

    1. Agree. I’ve been caught out a couple of times recently by these inexplicable lane changes. Local drivers will learn them through frequent use but many drivers from outside Auckland and practically all tourists will continually be caught out.

      As you point out, the space is available under the bridges for through lanes so what the hell were the designers thinking?

  4. “Construction issues also struck the Huntly Bypass last year after it was discovered some of the steel being used was deficient.”

    If I am building a house and I check the windowframes before installing them only to discover that they are deficient, then you wouldn’t call that my error. You would congratulate me for my robust quality control. Why should the NZTA be different?

  5. Quite apart from any debates over road vs PT investment, I really struggle to understand why NZTA (taxpayers) are paying for fixing the obvious defect on Kapiti. The story says:

    “The issue appears to have been caused by the unexpected penetration of moisture through the membrane seal.”

    How can that be unexpected? Have levels or water tables changed? That can only be due to either a design defect (failure to provide adequate drainage or pavement sealing), construction error or omission, or incorrect geo-technical data. NZTA as a delivery/procurement agency should have contract documents that ensure those things do not happen or, if they do, errors are corrected at the contractors expense.

    Huntly Bypass is another case where contract documentation appears to have been inadequate. If steel came from a new supplier, it should have been lab tested before use.

    If NZTA does not have sufficient expertise in house to pick this sort of thing up, then they should hire firms to act as verifiers on their behalf. They then police the contractors, and do not pay them till work has been verified as adequate.

    I do not really see Transmission Gully as a scandal because mistakes can be made and it has been picked up before the design is final. Waterview though, the modelling error should have been realised at the business case stage, so that one is bad too. Also corrected modelling might have undermined the business case to build it.

    1. “NZTA as a delivery/procurement agency should have contract documents that ensure those things do not happen or, if they do, errors are corrected at the contractors expense.”

      Under an alliance model costs are shared. Savings and knowledge are also shared. It’s a different procurement model with pros and cons. Perhaps the seal failure was unexpected because the design team didn’t expect to have the wettest spring ever for the three months after opening?

      “Huntly Bypass is another case where contract documentation appears to have been inadequate. If steel came from a new supplier, it should have been lab tested before use.”

      The steel was tested before use. This is an example of good quality control.

      1. Huntly bypass as good quality control? The project where the steel CHS piles split open when being driven ? From what I’ve heard it was a bloody disaster. Terrible quality steel, imported rubbish, false certification, standard way below what was required, and only extensive redesign saved it from being an international scandal. Not what I would call a project with good quality control. Heads should roll….

        1. It’s hard importing steel from china, however, false certification shows its not the contractors fault but the suppliers. Unfortunately without someone full time in china (i’ve had steel checked by independent quality inspectors once a week, and still bad steel full through the cracks) you cant always help that. Unfortunately we cant get suppliers in china to kull their under-performing staff.

          1. Given the known history of defects in materials from that country, a more rigorous QA/lot testing system should have been in place. Some steel was tested before use, but nowhere near enough. And how was the lot tested selected? QA is supposed to ensure this does not happen.

            If Chinese suppliers consistently supply bad steel, why not get other suppliers? Does their QA in practice meet ISO standards?If not they should not be accepted as a permitted supplier. Korea and Japan supply excellent quality steel. Unless there is a consequence for the rogue supplier, they will keep cheating the system. Besides, unless the steel was supplied by NZTA separately, the contractor takes ultimate responsibility for the quality of suppliers and subcontractors’ work organised by them in a contract.

    2. Kapiti Expressway sits high above the local water table – it goes through very silty, sandy, peat-laden soil so that all had to be stripped out and replaced with metal. Very expensive road, yet was brought in on budget but before time was up. There is an implication that because they built it fast, they saved some money on the labour costs (i.e. at least 2 months worth of wages saved) but I guess there is also the implication that they hurried it, and botched the final layer of seal.

      So the issue is the seal, most probably. Who is responsible for the specification of the seal? NZTA, presumably. Who is responsible for the inspection of the seal as it was laid? the Contractor, presumably. Except that: local people complained that the initial seal it had was too noisy, and so, soon after it was finished, parts were re-sealed with a less noisy chip system, in order to try and placate the neighbours. Was the new seal less hard? More smooth? More holes to dissipate sound? Does the smoother seal let in less water, or more?

      So many questions. No easy answers.

      1. Funding decisions, design, construction, modifications to design and specifications are all done within one alliance. With that alliance being a trusted, politically independent and transparent group, the answers to these questions must be easy to secure.

      2. Guy
        Thanks for the info. As you say, if the water table is not a cause, that only leaves design error construction error.

        Also if it came in early there should have been a cost saving to NZTA on both plant hire and labour. Unless NZTA gets its share of the cost reductions, Alliance contracts just become a”heads I win, tails you lose” bet for contractors.

    3. Everyone who deals with ground construction knows, no matter how much geotechnical investigation you carryout, you will never find everything. Unfortunately the ground can be very unpredictable at times. There may have been a natural spring in a spot between boreholes that was not disturbed during construction, however with constant heavy loads from vehicle traffic its become uncovered. It may have been due to us having one of the wettest springs on record, or it could of been a construction error. Every Civil Contract has a clause for unforeseen ground conditions, however in this case it’s an alliance, so costs are shared between alliance members in any case.

      Huntly ByPass I believe the faulty steel was tested and therefore not used. Of course this was most likely the lowest price material so the next supply would of been more expensive. (logically speaking).

      “If NZTA does not have sufficient expertise in house to pick this sort of thing up, then they should hire firms to act as verifiers on their behalf. They then police the contractors, and do not pay them till work has been verified as adequate.” – This would fall under Lump Sum / Measure and Value contract, of course naturally as there is more risk for the contractor these contracts end up costing more, also under NZS3910 the contractor still has rights for example to claim back variations for unforeseen ground conditions. The advantage of alliance contracts means all the parties share in the risks and rewards of contracts, and the contractor is not able to take the principal for a ride with variations. The disadvantage is poor workmanship from one party can influence rewards of all parties (however this risk is minimised as all parties work together in from detailed design to construction to closeout.) All forms of contract have project signoff and snag/defects lists created before practical completion.

    4. “How can that be unexpected? Have levels or water tables changed? ”

      That is possible given the incredibly wet winter experienced by the whole country

      1. Droll really. Road building – induced traffic – increased carbon emissions – climate change – “incredibly wet winter” – road damage.

      2. No, sorry, Chris, but wrong end of stick. What I was trying to say in my comment before is that the new road is way higher than ground level, and way higher than water levels, and they built it so that it does not / will not / cannot get waterlogged. So, the whole of the Kapiti coast may get waterlogged and washed away, and this road will still be sitting proudly above it all. So, not a chance of it being a water table issue. It has either been sealed too fast over a badly laid substrate, or just used the wrong seal or wrong adhesive between seals.

        Also – not disagreeing that it has been a long wet spring / winter, but this was laid before the big wet.

        1. Guy
          Thanks again. Also, when I was constructing roads (a long time ago) you had to test moisture content before laying pavement seals. So the wet winter might have caused delay, but should not have been allowed to cause pavement defects.

  6. With regard to Transmission Gully, we are told by chief executive Sergio Mejia that, “The extra consenting costs are expected to total about $50,000, which was within the project’s budget”.

    Consenting costs? That is surely a minor administrative charge only.

    What about the actual costs of excavating and handling another 3 million m³ of earth? Is that within the project’s budget? Even if it was only a mythical $1 per m³, that still dwarfs the $50,000 figure!

    1. Yes. My questions are;

      – Why do they think they’ll get consent with 50% more earthworks? Since “this is for a project already one of, if not the biggest in terms of the size of the earthworks needed” surely the extra 50% could mean they don’t get consent? Or is RC just a joke, really, when it’s a RoNS?

      – Incremental creep with resource consents is standard practice for some types of development, ie, get consented what you can now and then (often before work has even started) apply for additions, which creates a project that would never have been consented altogether. Any chance of this being the case here?

      – What will the new project cost be, and if it is over the project budget does the project budget just get altered because it’s a RoNS? (Rort of National Significance.)

  7. Matt,
    Couldn’t agree with you more.
    TransFund should be reestablished with an independent board.
    Invesment decisions should be independently made at arms length from project proponents.
    NTZA has a board which provides some independence from the Authority but I don’t consider it sufficient.

  8. The city end of blockhouse bay road was resealed a couple of months ago. One section around #62 is now well cracked with ground water coming through for many metres up the road. Looks just like the kapiti expressway photo above. The city bound lane has a large depression / pothole forming, about 1m x 4m.
    Problems with seal are not isolated

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