The Puhoi to Warkworth motorway is now scheduled to open in mid-May 2022 after the New Zealand Transport Agency and Fletcher Building reached an agreement on how to manage the Covid-19-related delays.
The agreement includes a payment of $85 million to Fletcher and joint-venture partner Acciona Concesiones to cover the cost of delays and other impacts of the shutdown, and is on top of an earlier payment of $83 million to cover pre-covid delays. In 2018, Fletcher said it wasn't making any profit on the project.
The public-private partnership's original completion target of October 2021 was axed when five weeks of the earthmoving season, in summer when the ground is dry, was lost during the national shutdown in April.
"At the time of the shutdown, the earthmoving season was in full swing," and the plan had been to move up to 3 million cubic metres of earth, NZTA general manager Brett Gliddon said.
Not being able to finish the earth work had a knock-on effect for the planned winter construction programme, adding seven months to the completion date and $85 million to the price tag.
Gliddon said the delay was disappointing but he was pleased with the quality of the project and to have a plan for getting it open to the public as soon as possible.
The expected completion date is still heavily dependent on good weather and no additional unexpected challenges, including further disruptions from covid-19.
The pandemic is the second delay to the motorway. Last year, slow land purchase agreements and appeals to the Environment Court interrupted construction on the northern end of the project, which resulted in a separate $83 million payment to Fletcher and Acciona.
NZTA's total agreed contribution to the project now amounts to $877.5 million, up from an initial estimate of $709.5 million.
The cost may be supported by tolling the road. NZTA officials recommended tolling in a March paper to the board, saying it would bring net revenue of $361 million to $547 million over 25 years.
When it opens, the motorway — named Ara Tuhono, or 'connecting path' — will extend the four-lane Northern Motorway 18.5 kilometres from the Johnstones Hill tunnels to just north of Warkworth.
The road is intended to make travel safer, freight easier to move and enhance the economic potential of the Northland region.