If you break down on the Transmission Gully highway, or have a prang, you might not be able to use your cellphone to call for help.
For there's an immediate problem with the new $1.2 billion, 27km stretch of motorway out of Wellington, officially opened this morning: mobile blackspots.
The head of an industry group says the patchy cellphone coverage stems from the limited access that Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees got to the project during its construction and the telco's design plan being ignored - and that he understands the solution will involve smashing up parts of the new motorway.
But Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency says a "future-proofing" ducting system should negate the need to dig anything up, and that it sees the ball in the telcos' court. It also says that although 111 emergency calling isn't possible at some points, a subcontractor will monitor the entire stretch of new road 24/7.
"The mobile network operators produced a design plan to provide coverage on Transmission Gully back in 2020," says Paul Brislen, head of the Telecommunications Forum that counts Spark, Vodafone NZ, 2degrees and Chorus among its members.
"Unfortunately since then, mobile operators have not been able to gain access to the area in order to build any mobile infrastructure prior to the road opening.
"That means that while there is existing coverage at the terminus ends of the Transmission Gully Road, and some incidental cover along its length, the planned coverage has not been put in place," Brislen told the Herald.
"There are pockets of coverage at best."
Anecdotal evidence suggests you can drive for up to three minutes on the new motorway with no cell signal.
As well as inconveniencing drivers who want to make hands-free calls, or who need mobile data for car audio or navigation systems, the mobile blackspots create a potential emergency calling issue in the event of an accident.
A stop-gap measure goes part way to filling the breach.
"In order to help provide cover on the parts of the road between Battle Hill and the Morgans Golf Course, all three operators have deployed a temporary cell site on private land. But that is only a temporary measure," Brislen said.
"The engineers say they would need to build five towers to provide contiguous coverage as per the design plan.
"Building new towers now will require access for electricity supply and for the tower construction crews and as I understand it, will involve digging up parts of the new motorway.
"This is clearly sub-optimal and is another reason why digital infrastructure should be a key consideration in any large-scale infrastructure project."
Waka Kotahi responds
"As with many roads through rural areas, there are sections of the new motorway without mobile phone coverage," Waka Kotahi spokesman Andy Knackstedt told the Herald.
"These sections vary by mobile provider. Responsibility for providing reliable mobile network coverage ultimately rests with providers. Waka Kotahi has been in discussions with mobile network providers and has facilitated access for investigations.
"However, we are still waiting on the providers to confirm locations and to submit their proposal."
"It is not correct that 'parts of the motorway might have to be dug up'," Knackstedt said.
"Multiple ducts have been installed within the road corridor for the power and ITS needs of the project, and the design has also included the installation of spare ducts for future-proofing.
"It should also be noted that in an emergency, all providers reroute 111 calls to any available mobile network. The Transmission Gully motorway also has a radar system that detects incidents anywhere along the motorway which will be monitored 24/7 by an operations team who will direct incident response assistance to stopped vehicles for example. For incident response, the operator of the motorway, Ventia, will have full communication capability along the new motorway using their radio network."
Police radio network to be expanded
Meanwhile, Police say their radio network does not cover all of the new stretch of motorway.
"As Transmission Gully is flanked by hills, there are portions of the highway that are not adequately covered by Police's existing radio sites," a spokeswoman said.
"There are currently two areas of unreliable vehicle radio coverage on Transmission Gully - one approximately 700 metres long and one approximately 500 metres long.
"Police are currently building a new radio site for all emergency services at Wainui Saddle.
"The new site is expected to be operational in mid-late 2022."
The over-budget Transmission Gully highway was originally scheduled to open in April 2020. An Official Information Act request by the Herald revealed construction had been plagued by flawed chipseal and water seeping through the road's surface.