This week, myself and Road Transport Forum board member and road freight transport business owner Deborah O’Brien toured the famous Transmission Gully build. We weren’t disappointed.

This road will enhance travel into and out of the Wellington region with a 27 kilometre motorway from Mackays Crossing to Linden that will be a key part of the 110km Wellington Northern Corridor (Wellington to Levin).

This will make a big difference in terms of safety and resilience for the region once the road opens in September next year. It will be better able to resist and recover from earthquakes and storms than the current State Highway 1 coastal road – which will remain as an alternative route.

From the perspective of freight movement, Transmission Gully is long overdue. Truck drivers will find it easier to access the inter-island ferries and distribution hubs in the area, and travel times should reduce.

I have been a fairly vocal critic of the time it has taken to complete this project but when you drive it from go to whoa, it is apparent what a massive undertaking it has been.

More than 10 million cubic metres of earth have been moved, which is one of the largest volumes of earth to be moved on a New Zealand roading project to date. It has a steep incline and the highest point on the motorway, the Wainui Saddle, is 253m above sea level. On the day we visited it was pretty windy and cold up there – Wellington summer – and apparently it can snow in the winter.

A lot of thought has gone into the environment and road safety, which is good to see. From a safety perspective there is a 250 metre long ‘arrestor bed’ on the long northbound descent from the Wainui Saddle. This is a gravel-filled ramp adjacent to the road that can be used to stop a runaway vehicle. It has been designed to bring heavy vehicles to a halt in an emergency, such as a brake or gearbox failure.

The project has included 27 kilometres of stream remediation and 2.5 million native trees and plants will span the roadside.

Massive infrastructure projects, such as this road, are vital to New Zealand’s economy, particularly as we face ongoing economic ups and downs as a result of Covid-19.

As a country that relies on trade, we need a modern, fast, road infrastructure – 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight is delivered by road. We need a roading network to match the supply chain task that allows the fast, most efficient and most cost-effective movement of imports and exports, and the goods every New Zealand needs every day. 

We are seeing growth in road freight transport and while there is some collective romantic notion that rail freight can replace road, it can’t. There isn’t the infrastructure, or the market demand. Even when freight is put on a train, it’s taken onto and/or off that train by a truck.

It’s no secret we want to see more investment in roads – some are at a critical and dangerous point of requiring either rebuilding, or extensive repairs. We will continue to make the evidence-based case for this as a way to power our economy and assist the road transport industry to safely and efficiently fulfill its mandate to deliver freight for its customers.

But to end on a positive note, Transmission Gully is impressive and we are thrilled to see the Te Ahu a Turanga: Manawatū Tararua Highway project getting underway today, with a sod-turning event with the Prime Minister.

Let’s build more roads.

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