22 Oct 2015

Work gets underway on Transmission Gully

9:28 am on 22 October 2015

Generations have waited for it, now work is ramping up on Wellington's major new road - Transmission Gully.

Machinery at Transmission Gully works site

Machinery at Transmission Gully works site Photo: RNZ/Gareth Thomas

It's been a long time coming. Some say the route was first talked about in 1876 - others say it was much later on.

Whoever's right, today is another milestone. It's the start of site works, which will be officially marked by the Transport Minister this morning.

At the only cafe neighbouring the project's headquarters in Pauatahanui, on the fringes of Porirua, you'll find big spenders in hi-vis. The highway workers are handing over more than a buck or two for their coffee fix.

Café owner Darryl Ellis is taking an extra $500 a day

Café owner Darryl Ellis is taking an extra $500 a day Photo: RNZ/Gareth Thomas

GroundUp cafe owner Darryl Ellis isn't afraid to talk figures.

"So we're about $500 a day up on this time last year. Our turnover's about $3,500 a day now."

Thanks to the 27 kilometre motorway, which will run from Kapiti to south of Porirua, his business is going great guns.

"I see a lot of them [engineers] coming in here. So it's obviously a bit of a meeting place for them as well. I imagine they like to get off site, especially if they're meeting contractors. This is ... neutral ground. Business has just boomed as a result of Transmission Gully."

Men and women at work

Up on the Kapiti Coast, the pylons from Transmission Gully have gone and the power has been re-routed.

Contractors are making in-roads, building sediment tanks and clearing the way for huge machines to cut through the land.

"In here, we've got some very steep country that we're going through and a lot of challenges in that in terms of trying to get the equipment in and safely constructing the works. We have two streams we need to divert," says Rod Varney, who leads the Leighton HEB Joint Venture team at the northern end of the site.

His boss, Australian project director Mick O'Dwyer, says the project is bang on schedule but agreed the steep country is one of the tests.

'Personally, obviously it's in a different country. So that's challenge number one.

"Challenge number two: the terrain we're constructing this job through is quite steep in some areas and that will be a challenge from an occupational health and safety point of view. Also, simply from a progress point of view you can't charge away at things."

Young site engineer Antony Feek.

Young site engineer Antony Feek. Photo: RNZ/Gareth Thomas

Not long out of university, site engineer Antony Feek is one of about 600 people who will work on the road.

"It's my first construction job. It's been fun and definitely very exciting as well. As everyone seems to say, it's a job that's been talked about for some time.

"If you talk to any local, they've known about it for 50 years. And even my parents knew about it. They knew about it before I got the job. So it's pretty cool to be a part of that kind of atmosphere".

Hidden midden

The more work they do, the more surprises the engineers turn up.

Environmental advisor Reuben Mills at midden site

Environmental advisor Reuben Mills at midden site Photo: RNZ/Gareth Thomas

Environmental advisor Reuben Mills says just the other day another midden (a dung hill or refuse heap) was found.

"In that midden was a rock bed, where you would have heated up stones and burned your fire, and shellfish fragments from around the outside of the fire.

"When we get to enough samples from different aspects around the project, we'll look at carbon dating. Helps you paint the picture of archeology and human habitation of that area."

2020 is the target for the four-lane road opening. The contract is worth $1 billion.

Transport planners said the motorway was desperately needed. It only takes a bad crash on the current State Highway 1 coastal route to choke the flow of traffic into and out of Wellington.

What engineers need now is long spells of dry weather to get the job done.

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