Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
Last Friday, Kāpiti councillors made a site visit to the biggest regional transport project, the 27km Transmission Gully Motorway. A project which has not only already impacted Kāpiti but poses huge implications for the future of the Kāpiti Coast when it opens. NZTA and Wellington Gateway Partnership officials loaded us up on a bus that took us up the incline from Paekākāriki to the Wainui Saddle and down to Battle Hill Farm Forest Park and Pāuatahanui. Rain further up the road raised safety concerns and an earlier return without completing the 27km stretch. So we missed viewing the largest structure on the project, the 230m long and 60m high Ara a Toa bridge.
This is not the first time I have been on the construction site. Three years ago the mayor of Porirua and I with our respective staff were taken by four-wheel drive vehicles from the Pāuatahanui side up to the Saddle. Back then the Saddle was several metres higher than now as heavy machinery have cut and ground down the hill. Part of the 10 million cubic metres of earth the project is projected to move. One of the impressive things I noted back then was the remediation and restoration work on the streams. It was beautifully done. Today, we were informed, an estimated 27km of stream remediation, including 8km of completely re-engineered waterways, had been completed. The project includes 550 hectares of habitats supported by 2.5 million native trees and plants. On Friday we were told the remediation had won an International Erosion Control Association award.
We were also told that the motorway was scheduled to open to traffic in September this year. We all hope it does. We are aware that detailed investigations and the preferred alignment for the motorway was initiated back in 2006 with design and construction started in 2014. The original cost was pegged at $850m. It's been going up ever since. Today, after recent settlement agreements in December 2019, and again in August 2020, the cost sits at $1.25 billion. The recent settlements include complications to the Public Private Partnership caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact was not just on the parties to the partnership.
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In June 2020 a Stuff article quoted advice from real estate experts advising Kāpiti property owners not to be captured by thinking that holding off till the motorway opening would enable them to leverage higher sales prices given the likely potential of a negative impact of the pandemic on property prices. In the event, all the experts predicting a significant drop in property prices were proved wrong. That brings me to that quotable comment made by director general of health Ashley Bloomfield on Monday when, in reaction to the community infiltration of the virulent UK variant of the Covid-19 virus, he described the current reality as being one where the public is on a roller coaster ride for which we never bought a ticket. We need to be prepared for all possibilities.
We cannot take it for granted that major projects like Transmission Gully will open as scheduled with all its implications to our local and regional economy. But we need to balance that with an implicit understanding that our ability to be positive about our future depends on all of us pulling our weight and taking all practical steps to keep the recommended health protocols on personal hygiene, social distancing and tracking our whereabouts. The Prime Minister is right to keep reminding us that as part of Team NZ we have all been there before. And pulled through. Can we do it again? Yes, we can.