Wide pedestrian-friendly footpaths. A tree-lined street with planter boxes and rain gardens. A modern and inviting space for everyone but especially students of the new University of Waikato campus. Maybe, someday, a bus interchange. This is Tauranga City Council's vision for the 300m section of Durham St between Elizabeth and Spring Sts. But a year on since the first phase of construction started, the project is hitting both small businesses in the area and ratepayers in the pocket much harder than expected. Reporter Samantha Motion takes a look at both the financial and human struggles.
The cost of Durham St upgrades is now expected to exceed $10 million, as struggling small businesses sick of roadworks consider packing up.
The joint Tauranga City Council, NZ Transport Agency and University of Waikato project aims to turn the 300m stretch between Elizabeth and Spring Sts into a green, pedestrian-friendly student hub around the new university campus.
In 2017 a construction budget of $6.1m was set, of which the council would pay $5.6m.
Transport Agency funding of $500,000 plus a separate wastewater budget brought the total to $6.9m.
Council corporate services manager Paul Davidson said an overspend of $3.3m was expected, increasing the total to $10.2m.
Acting infrastructure manager Martin Parkes said the issues causing delays and overspends included archaeological finds, poor ground conditions and the need to relocate and replace aged underground services.
He said contractors found pipes at the end of their life - some more than 100 years old - and others in unexpected places.
"There were up to 13 pipes where [the] council's plans only showed two pipes. It takes time to find out who owns the services and then how we deal with them."
Construction started in June and the council said at the time it would take 12 to 18 months.
Gridlock: Congestion isn't right problem to solve - international expert
Data project: Use this interactive map to plan your daily commute
Parkes said the project would be finished by the end of 2019.
That may not be soon enough for Graham Whitaker, who owns Eastern Hi Fi at 159 Durham St.
Whitaker said his lease was expiring in August and he was looking for a new space.
"We've just had enough. It's a nightmare."
Custom was down 20 per cent and getting worse.
Clients struggled to navigate the roadworks and find parking, and he felt no empathy from the council's leadership. He was sick of often seeing no one working at the site.
He said CBD commercial spaces were available and affordable but he was looking elsewhere.
"I am scared and people are scared to set up in the CBD."
"We are so fortunate our lease is coming up for expiry ... unlike the people who have no option but to stay."
Smiths Motorcycles has been at 153 Durham St for 56 years but owner Peter Dromgool said his business was 60 per cent down on last year and he was worried for its future.
"We've been here since 1963, in this same building, but we could be closing the doors if the council doesn't do something soon."
He said motorbike riders did not want to navigate the closed streets and ripped-up road.
"I've got people ringing up and saying 'what's the road like' and you tell them and they just go elsewhere."
Foot traffic was "non-existent".
He could not understand what was taking so long.
"It's been 12 months so far and we are looking at another six. It's just appalling."
He said businesses should have been given a rates holiday for the duration of the work.
Downtown Tauranga chairman Brian Berry said streetscaping work was impacting businesses in the area badly.
Parkes said the council had kept retailers informed on the progress through weekly project emails, monthly meetings and one-on-one assistance.
The council had also been actively promoting Durham St businesses in partnership with Downtown Tauranga, he said.
A request for extra funding - $1.27m next year and $2.01m the year after - will go to a finance committee meeting on Tuesday.
A report in the agenda for that meeting said learnings from Durham St would be applied to planning for other streetscaping projects in Elizabeth St, Strand Extension and Wharf St.
A second stage of work is planned for Durham St potentially including a new bus interchange, but the council was still looking into locations.
Initial budget: $6.9 million
Forecast overspend: $3.3 million
Expected total: $10.2 million
Durham St project parts
- Stormwater services renewals
- Water system renewals and increased capacity
- Wastewater service renewals
- Widening footpaths
- Bus interchange future proofing
- Streetscaping with trees and planters.