Ball gets rolling on Transmission Gully
There is no going back now. Construction of the Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington has been set in stone by the Government and work will start in a matter of months.
But while taxpayers now know what the 27-kilometre four-lane link between Linden and McKays Crossing will cost them, motorists are still in the dark when it comes to a toll.
The New Zealand Transport Agency yesterday inked a deal with a business consortium that will see the private sector build the motorway for $850 million. That is $25m less than it would have cost NZTA.
Once the motorway is open to traffic in April 2020, the agency will begin paying it off, along with interest, maintenance and operating costs, in annual instalments of $125m over 25 years.
That means that, by the time inflation has been added in to the mix, taxpayers will have handed over about $3.1 billion.
Tolling Transmission Gully was not part of the contract struck yesterday, but NZTA is still considering it to help offset the cost.
Chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said a decision on that would happen "within the next year or two".
For now, the Wellington region could enjoy the "unprecedented certainty" provided by the deal, and taxpayers could feel assured the agency had achieved good value, he said.
Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said he expected a toll. But he felt motorists would be happy to pay "an affordable fee" to drive on a motorway that was considerably safer and less prone to closure than the existing coastal highway through Porirua and Pukerua Bay. "This road will save lives," he said.
Transmission Gully will be the first state highway project to be built as a public private partnership.
The business consortium, known as the Wellington Gateway Partnership and led by Australian company Leighton Contractors, hopes to begin enabling works in the spring, which will include shifting utilities and fences before Christmas.
Bulk earthworks will begin next year. At its peak, construction will employ about 700 people.
Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said any suggestion that heavy vehicles would struggle to climb parts of the Gully motorway was rubbish.
"The reality is that the entire route will be no steeper than Ngauranga Gorge out of Wellington, which trucks of all descriptions routinely use every day."
CentrePort chief executive Blair O'Keeffe said Transmission Gully was needed to accommodate an expected 60 per cent increase in freight movements over the next 30 years.
Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said that, while NZTA was trumpeting a $25m saving on construction, it had already spent more than $30m just on the contracting process.
"The PPP is not a way of saving money. It is a way of hiding an expensive loan using the private sector."
Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said Transmission Gully was a much-needed shot in the arm for the safety and productivity of the region.
Acting Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said a second major route in and out of the capital could not come quickly enough, while Porirua Deputy Mayor Ana Coffey was delighted.
"We've been waiting a long time for this day," she said. "It's very exciting to finally know that Transmission Gully is now an absolute certainty."
BY THE NUMBERS
$850 million to build
700 people employed
$125 million a year to pay off
95 years in the planning
28 bridges along the route
27 kilometres long
5 private sector firms building it
4 lanes wide
2 interchanges linking it to Porirua
THE STORY SO
FAR June 5, 1919: First known mention of an alternative route for State Highway 1 through Transmission Gully appears in The Evening Post.
1996: Consent sought to include the proposed Transmission Gully route in local district plans.
2006: Greater Wellington Regional Council includes the motorway in its 10-year transport strategy. Land Transport NZ approves $9.2m in funding for investigations.
Dec 2009: Government commits to building the Gully as part of its $2.6 billion road of national significance project from Wellington Airport to Levin.
Aug 2011: Resource consent applications lodged by the Transport Agency and Porirua City Council.
June 2012: A board of inquiry approves resource consent after a month-long hearing.
Jan 2013: Expressions of interest are sought from the private sector to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the motorway for 25 years.
Dec 2013: Wellington Gateway Partnership chosen as the Government's preferred bidder.
Yesterday: Both parties put pen to paper on a contract confirming the cost, annual repayments and start of construction.
Peak journeys are between 7 and 15 minutes shorter
Less prone to accidents and closures than the existing coastal SH1
Heavy highway traffic is removed from communities such as Mana and Plimmerton
Freight is moved more efficiently
Journey between Levin and Wellington Airport is cut by 40 minutes
Could reopen 30 days after a natural disaster, while the current SH1 could take 120 days
The Dominion Post