An elaborate game of pass the parcel is underway in Wellington about who is responsible for the failure to have the new Transmission Gully Motorway, originally intended for completion in April 2020, and then five projected dates after that, finally open for this year’s Christmas holiday traffic.
The reason given is because the various resource consents and safety assurance tests have not yet been fully completed and are unlikely to be before the onset of the summer holidays (when presumably all the bureaucrats responsible go off on holiday). These tests are important and should not be compromised but it is beyond belief, given that this project has been under construction for over seven years and the current eighteen-month delay on last year’s projected completion date, that the consenting authorities were not better geared up to act in time for the roadway to be opened this month.
Waka Kotahi, the transport agency responsible for the highway, is openly apologetic for the failure to meet the latest deadline and is clearly frustrated at the ongoing delays. But the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the major consenting authority, lazily denies any responsibility for the delay, placing all the blame on the road building company.
It clearly never occurred to the GWRC that there was huge expectation that the highway would be open for these summer holidays, and that it might therefore have been prudent for it to think ahead and organise itself so that the consents issues could be resolved speedily and in time for Christmas. The GWRC chair acknowledges the project is already nearly two years behind schedule, which, extraordinarily, in his mind seems to excuse the latest delays.
In fact, it would not have been unreasonable to have expected a half-way efficient Council to have been doing all it could in the interim to ensure the consent applications were lodged as early as possible so they could be approved in good time to allow the road to open this year.
For its part, the roadbuilder, already potentially subject to a $7.5 million non-completion penalty payment rising by $250,000 for every day the road remains unopened is saying nothing. Local Mayors are relishing playing the “I told you so” game over the time the consenting process stakes, but do not seem to have shared any of their self-proclaimed wisdom with Waka Kotahi or the government before the problem became apparent.
Central government, normally so keen to have its fingers in the pie, has been noticeably silent on the delay and the impact it will have on Wellington over the coming summer. Neither the Labour MPs representing the areas through which Transmission Gully runs, nor the Minister of Transport have expressed any concern or sympathy for the thousands of motorists who will be delayed in lengthy queues heading into and out of Wellington this summer. Nor have they made any suggestions about how the process could be facilitated to open the motorway earlier than the Easter 2022 date Waka Kotahi is now projecting.
Transport Minister Wood has been singularly uninterested in Transmission Gully since taking office last year. His only statements on Transmission Gully have been to criticise the public-private partnership established by the previous government for the highway’s construction.
In contrast, he has been far more vocal and positive on the Auckland light rail project which just happens to run close to his Mount Roskill electorate. He has been very keen to ensure progress on that project which the Prime Minister previously promised would be up and running by now, only to face the humiliation of its being vetoed by New Zealand First.
Wood went so far as to announce this week that the government would now decide the way forward for the project before the end of the year. He was remarkably candid, admitting that the only thing holding up an announcement at this stage was that the government was still considering the mechanics of that announcement, in other words, how to spin the story to Labour’s maximum advantage.
It is a great pity Wood has not shown even a modicum of the interest he has in Auckland light rail on Transmission Gully. But then, Transmission Gully was a project initiated by the previous government, so matters little to this government. Nor does he have to travel over the affected area at all regularly, so it really is a case of out of sight, out of mind. But he needs to remember being Minister of Transport is a role that covers the whole country, not just the Auckland region. Certainly, a similar lack of interest on his part in Auckland light rail would never have been tolerated.
Meanwhile, Wellington motorists will continue their indefinite crawl past the nearly ready Transmission Gully highway, increasingly aware that neither the Minister, nor their local Labour MPs care a jot for their frustration.
The one positive note in all this is the project is so close to completion it will not be abandoned. It will open at some point in the not-too-distant future, and then the currently silent local Labour MPs will no doubt be hailing its success.
Anyway, that is it for this year. In the spirit of Christmas, my best wishes to everyone for the coming Festive Season, in the company of family and friends; for safe travels and relaxing times (and in the case of Wellingtonians not too many lengthy delays crawling past Transmission Gully!) Merry Christmas!