The rush to get a National War Memorial Park built in central Wellington before the centenary of the Gallipoli landings on Anzac Day next year has been a mighty effort.
All things going to plan, the state highway in front of the National War Memorial will be history in just three short months.
The New Zealand Transport Agency says work to complete the Buckle St Underpass is well on track and traffic will be running through the cut-and-cover tunnel come October.
"We haven't got too much spare time, but at this point I think we're looking pretty good," Wellington state highways manager Rod James said this week.
Unlike most major roading projects, which require a few years of arguing before anyone picks up a shovel, the Buckle St Underpass got underway at lightning speed.
Prime Minister John Key stood at the steps of the National War Memorial in August 2012 and proclaimed that Buckle St would be going underground.
In its place, a park would be built to enhance the stature of the memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the Hall of Memories and the Carillon.
This memorial precinct would serve as an enduring reminder, honouring more than 300,000 Kiwis who served their country in times of conflict and 30,000 who died, Key said.
It would also give this country a centrepiece to be proud of when it marked the centenary of the Gallipoli landings on Anzac Day 2015.
Ever since Key clicked his fingers that day, the Transport Agency has been working hard to make that vision a reality inside a tight timeframe of 18 months.
James labelled it one of the biggest challenges of his career, matched only by the pressure of putting together the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff ahead of the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
But having dug up and moved all the central Wellington utilities, and having constructed the underpass structure itself, the Transport Agency is now over the worst of it.
"We started this project with a lot less design time than we would normally have," James says.
"We didn't know what we were going to hit when we got underground. It's a common theme in Wellington to find thing like utilities aren't where they're meant to be."
If there was no time pressure or special circumstances, the agency would have spent two years getting resource consent for the underpass project and twice as long building it, James says.
This challenge, along with having to employ "hundreds" of workers to stay on track, saw the total cost of the project rise from about $80m in August 2012 to $100m and then $120m.
The ground threw up a few surprises during excavation, such as the remains of an old gun pit and an old well further down the road by the former Home of Compassion creche.
But, on the whole, there were not enough archaeological artefacts buried beneath Buckle St to slow the project down significantly.
The project is able to stay on track because the entire team is so energised about the end result, James says.
"Every guy who has worked on that site, from the labourers through to the chief executive, has been really excited about what they've been doing and will look back on this as a project they can be proud of."
Wendy Booth, who lives in the Tasman Gardens apartment building overlooking Buckle St, says residents are equally as excited about having the memorial park on their doorstep.
"Our attitude from the beginning has been that we're looking forward to the end result."
But living with the construction had been no walk in the park. Every problem residents expected to happen, did happen, in terms of dust, noise and vibration.
The worst was when piles were being driven into the greywacke sandstone, Booth says.
"I live at the top of the apartment block and my floor jumped during the day."
The first six months were particularly difficult.
Because the project was fast- tracked by a special act of Parliament, construction got underway before NZTA could put enough community liaisons in place. That meant Tasman Gardens residents were often surprised by the noise of heavy machinery during the wee small hours in the early days, Booth says. Eventually the agency supplied ear plugs and got better at forewarning residents about noisy construction so they could make plans to be elsewhere.
But some residents who worked from home suffered from stress because they could not escape the noise, Booth says.
James concedes there were a few hurdles the agency had to overcome in terms of working with the community, but lessons have been learned.
With the first minor stages of the park landscaping, such as laying down kerbing, having already begun, the park is still very much on track to be ready for Anzac Day 2015.
BUCKLE ST UNDERPASS: BY THE NUMBERS
35,000 cubic metres of soil removed
16,000 bags of cement needed just to fix the ground anchors in place
14,381 timber posts used in the retaining wall, as well as 285 steel posts
7500 cubic metres of concrete used in total
2700 truck loads required to haul away the soil
2598 tonnes of steel reinforcing
900 metres of water mains, stormwater and sewers.
600 metres of retaining wall
558 ground anchors needed to secure the retaining wall
130-metre-long covered section
95 concrete piles
65 concrete pours required
18 metres wide
12 metres deep
5 kilometres of electricity and telecommunications cables
1 state highway running through it
THE WAR MEMORIAL PARK
Tangata Whenua Gardens will be placed on either side of the National War Memorial steps. They will include plantings, paved areas, rock features and a sculpture of cultural significance.
The century-old former Home of Compassion creche in Buckle St will be moved 15 metres west to a new location inside the park. This heritage- listed building is a reminder of French nun Mother Suzanne Aubert, who became famous for her social work in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Fifteen columns made from rugged red sandstone, surrounded by eucalypt trees, will be built opposite the Carillon as a tribute to Australian troops. The A$5 million memorial will be funded by the Australian Government.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
October 2014: The underpass will open for traffic and the Buckle St diversion will be removed.
November 2014 to April 2015: Landscaping of the park with grassed terraces, trees, pathways, seats and a paved ceremonial plaza in front of the National War Memorial will take place.
April 25, 2015: The park is due to officially open.
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