Transmission Gully: The bumpy road of the unfinished billion dollar freeway



It should be the day when the first wheels on Transmission Gully hit the road. But for the foreseeable future, only heavy machines will operate on the 27-kilometer stretch of motorway. Joel MacManus reports.

After more than a billion dollars and a century of waiting, drivers should now save a valuable 11 minutes driving to or from Wellington.

Instead, the communities were left in the lurch again. The coastal highway continues to jam with traffic, which leads to accident risks and resilience problems for the capital and the surrounding regions.

The opening day was postponed indefinitely without it being clear when a new date could be announced.

* Opening of the transmission channel is delayed due to Covid-19
* The opening of the Transmission Gully is expected to be delayed, says Minister of Transport
* The Transmission Gully crew received important work permits to protect the road during the closure

Officially, it is the fifth time that the deadline has been postponed.

An overpass rotated in May shows the latest advances on the Transmission Gully Autobahn, which is slated to open in 2021.

Delays, cost losses, and construction problems have dominated the headlines on a $ 1.25 billion project for decades.

In the 19 years since The Dominion Post was created, the term “transmission gully” popped up in 1874 articles, columns, and letters – a notable public concern for a road that was not yet open.

Transmission Gully: A Timeline

1919: The evening mail reports on a Suggestion from Otaki MP William Field for an inland freeway from Paekākāriki to Paremata – the earliest known record of a proposal that roughly resembles today’s road version.

1924: A 110,000 volt transmission line is laid between Wellington and the Mangahao power station in Shannon, which gives the gully its name.

When it opens, Transmission Gully will become State Highway 1.

Delivered / material

When it opens, Transmission Gully will become State Highway 1.

1995: The Wellington Automobile Association proposes building the Transmission Gully as a toll road. Transit New Zealand estimates the construction costs at 160 million US dollars.

1999: In an updated estimate, Transit New Zealand puts the construction costs at USD 245 million.

2009: Transport Secretary Stephen Joyce announces Transmission Gully as part of Roads of National Importance strategy.

Paving work on the Transmission Gully at the beginning of 2021.

ROSA WOODS / stuff

Paving work on the Transmission Gully at the beginning of 2021.

2012: Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee urges the NZTA to consider a public-private partnership. This was largely due to the Christchurch earthquake, which put pressure on the government’s balance sheet. The cost estimate was now at $ 850 million.

What is a public-private partnership?

As part of a PPP, a private company takes responsibility for the financing, construction and maintenance of a large part of the infrastructure. The state pays the company a fixed interest rate over a set number of years – in this case 25 years.

July 2014: NZTA signs a PPP contract with Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP) for the planning, construction, financing and subsequent operation and maintenance of the new motorway for 25 years. WGP hired a number of contractors to complete each part of the project. CPB HEB is commissioned as road builder.

September 2014: Prime Minister John Key, Brownlee, and Wellington Regional Council Chairman Fran Wilde attend a floor turning ceremony at the north end of the freeway.

The official groundbreaking ceremony for Transmission Gully.  From left, Peter Dunne, John Key and Gerry Brownlee turn around.

Maarten Holl / stuff

The official groundbreaking ceremony for Transmission Gully. From left, Peter Dunne, John Key and Gerry Brownlee turn around.

October 2015: On-site work begins with massive earthmoving that will eventually excavate enough earth to fill the Sky Stadium 2.7 times.

November 2016: The Kaikōura earthquake occurs, followed by a torrential rainy season. CPB HEB warns that the April 2020 opening date could be postponed to August 2020. This is the first official sign of trouble.

June 2019: Waka Kotahi agrees to a one-month extension due to delays caused by the earthquake and postpones the opening day from April 2020 to May 2020.

September 2019: The opening date will be postponed again from May 2020 to November 2020. NZTA admits there have been more problems than it previously suggested – storms had slipped some cut slopes and damaged a creek diversion project. In some places the damage was so great that the slopes had to be completely redesigned.

February 2020: Costs officially skyrocket to more than $ 1 billion after Waka Kotahi agreed to pay an additional $ 91 million to Wellington Gateway Partnership due to the delays. In a press release, the date in November 2020 is tacitly given, instead it is pointed out that the client is “working very hard to finish the motorway by Christmas”.

March 2020: New Zealand enters a level 4 lockdown. All construction work on the road will be stopped.

Construction progress of the Transmission Gully in August.


Construction progress of the Transmission Gully in August.

April 29, 2020: Work can resume, but without 80 employees stuck abroad. The lockdown costs valuable time in the main installation season.

August 2020: After months of negotiations, Waka Kotahi agrees to pay WGP an additional $ 208 million. This brings the total cost to $ 1.25 billion – $ 400 million more than originally agreed. The opening date has been postponed to September 27, 2021. As part of the deal, the contractor CPB HEB will be fined 7.5 million.

November 2020: The media are invited to drive through the street. All major bridges are complete, but much of the road is still a dirt, bumpy drive. Sergio Mejia, CEO of Wellington Gateway Partnership, says the only thing that could delay the project again could be an earthquake or an unprecedented flood. What he didn’t see coming, however, was another level 4 lockdown.

In November last year, all major bridges were completed, but more surface work was required.


In November last year, all major bridges were completed, but more surface work was required.

July 2021: 94 percent of the installation is reported. Waka Kotahi publishes a cryptic press release reminding WGP of the consequences of not opening the street on time – but there is no official word that opening day is in jeopardy.

Aug 14, 2021: Greater Wellington Regional Council Chairman Daran Ponter warns dozens of pending resource permits could jeopardize opening day.

August 18, 2021: New Zealand enters a Covid-19 level 4 lockdown. For safety and environmental reasons, workers are given the necessary permits to access the Transmission Gully.

September 18, 2021: Waka Kotahi confirms that Transmission Gully will not open until September 27. A new opening date has not been announced.



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