NZTA says it never approached other contractors to do work on Transmission Gully in the event the project's existing partnership folded.
The Transport Agency has pushed back against claims which have sent the rumour mill into overdrive the past few months.
Today NZTA announced the 27km stretch of road won't open until September 2021 and negotiations with contractors over the cost of the Covid-19 lockdown concluded to the tune of $208.5 million.
It's been a long time coming after the wrangle began about halfway through alert level 4 lockdown earlier this year.
That long negotiation period opened up a void for rumours and speculation to bubble.
The road is being built through a public-private partnership, the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP), with CPB Contractors and HEB Construction sub-contracted to carry out the design and construction.
In response to media queries by the Herald over the course of the year, CPB and HEB have indicated they were contractually prohibited from making comments to media, referring any queries to NZTA.
But NZTA has been reluctant to comment on much either during live commercial negotiations.
With allegations over Transmission Gully coming through thick and fast from the media, the Transport Agency reverted to using a template response in several cases.
But now negotiations are over and an announcement has been made, NZTA transport services general manager Brett Gliddon feels he can speak freely for the first time in a long time.
In an interview with the New Zealand Herald today, Gliddon said from the outset he wanted to clarify a few points: "Obviously there's been lots of rumour and views about what has and hasn't happened."
Gliddon said NZTA never approached other contractors to do the work in the event the current partnership folded.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford also confirmed this to the Herald in July, after reports in the public domain to the contrary.
Gliddon said before heading into negotiations, NZTA considered all its options including terminating the contact.
"But we decided in the end this settlement delivers the best value for money for the tax payer and gets the job finished as quickly as possible."
Gliddon did, however, have a theory about where that rumour came from.
He confirmed the builder did go out and talk to other New Zealand contractors, Fulton Hogan and Downer, to sub-contract out different pavement work.
That different pavement work is the $45 million NZTA also announced it was forking out for today.
It's a new surface that will be used on some sections of the road, because it's more resilient to poor weather, meaning work could continue even in marginal conditions.
"I suspect that's where the confusion has been generated about other contractors being talked to but that was not us, it was the builder", Gliddon said.
He said the contractor never threatened to walk out.
"While the negotiations were very tough and there was a heck of a lot at stake and very commercial, they were done very professionally.
"I'm absolutely certain they considered all their options like we did and termination of the contract was an option on the table for all the parties, so I'm sure they considered that.
"But they never threatened that. We always had a positive and professional negotiation and I think it was the desire of all parties to try reach a settlement as the first solution."
Gliddon said a "charge-up" contract was never palatable to NZTA.
This type of contract works by companies charging as they spend rather than working within a fixed amount.
"You change the whole term and it removes all of the incentives for the contractor to finish it quickly at the lowest cost. It puts all the risk back onto us, Gliddon said.
"The builder would love that, but that was never palatable for us, so the contract as it originally stands still stands.
Gliddon said NZTA had stayed relatively quiet because holding commercial negotiations while talking to the public wasn't tenable.
"There are things in those negotiations you want to keep very close to your chest so the other parties don't know what you're thinking and it would have risked us undermining our position by talking publicly."
He admitted it was frustrating.
"The public weren't getting the full picture at the time but our focus was trying to get the cheapest price and the earliest completion date.
"It was better for us to stay quiet and get the best deal than to try and get into a discussion in the media whether those rumours were true or not at the time."
When asked whether in hindsight the project was priced too low during the tender process, Gliddon said it was a very competitive price.
"The taxpayer got a very good deal even with these additional payments and the Covid impacts."
Gliddon said he could not stress how complex and difficult Transmission Gully had been.
"I think New Zealanders will get to see that as they drive up over the Wainui Saddle and they get to see the size and scale of the cuts and how this road has been literally built hanging onto the side of a hill."