We want to see Transmission Gully built properly

In News5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 12, 2021

Transmission Gully and I go back a long way. I have been quite vocal about my concerns with the project over recent times.

When I was Mayor of Porirua, a city which has a lot of skin in the game, I negotiated an agreement to secure vital link roads between the city and the gully and watched the project kick off. Now, as the chief executive of the Road Transport Forum, I see the importance of the route from our industry‘s perspective. Transmission Gully will aid the movement of freight by road and is long overdue. Truck drivers will find it easier to access the inter-island ferries and distribution hubs in the area, travel times should reduce and there will be less risk of the Wellington region being cut off in storms and other emergencies.

When I visited the road in December 2020, I was impressed and excited that an end is in sight – the road is to be finished by September this year.

So it was disappointing to get a call last week and be told that plans for a merging lane extension where Transmission Gully meets SH1 at Linden have been shelved by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). We all know that the pinch points on highways are where old roads meet new. The problem at Linden was identified before the project even commenced, and to be fair to NZTA, they have inherited the issue because the Regional Land Transport Committee at the time refused to take the appropriate action, which would have been a whole new lane for several kilometres on the existing highway.

At a cost of $1.25 billion, about 50% higher than its original $850 million budget, it seems ridiculous to not add vital pieces now, especially when you know you are going to have a problem. So much money is being spent, surely getting it right is the priority at this stage. What is the point of spending all that money if the road doesn‘t ease the congestion that has been crippling this vital route into Wellington? If it is a question of not doing the works because it will delay opening the road, well there have been so many delays thus far, wouldn‘t it be better to just finally, do it right?

The ultimate disappointment will be if Transmission Gully makes no difference to the congestion this growing region has been experiencing for years. Or if it just shifts the bottlenecks.

Without this merging lane extension at Linden, it is expected traffic will be pushed back at both ends causing backlogs in Kapiti and Tawa.

As I said in media last week, the shelved extension was already the “band-aid option” for traffic problems. Now, they’re not even going with the band-aid, they’re just letting it bleed.

Apparently, NZTA couldn‘t find anyone to do the work at the time they wanted – during night hours. This seems to be one of the big issues of our closed border and increasingly restrictive immigration settings.

This latest setback also shows there is a fundamental problem about the way infrastructure is done in this country. It is not future-proofed, rather there is a “suck it and see” method, doing just enough rather than factoring in future need and capacity.

NZTA apparently wants to play “wait and see” with this merging lane extension. Wait and see if it causes any problems and maybe, if it does, the work could still go ahead in the future. I back AA, who have said that the budget set aside for this work needs to be ringfenced so it can be called upon urgently if (when) it is needed.

That begs the questions: Will Transmission Gully be completed by September 2021, or will Transmission Gully-light be what‘s in place, with vital add-ons to come if there is the money and the people to complete them?

By Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum