Waikato Expressway: Rangiriri, Longswamp roadworks not ending anytime soon

Roadworks on a vital stretch of New Zealand's transport network have frustrated some locals and commuters for years - and they won't end anytime soon.

The Rangiriri and Longswamp sections of the Waikato Expressway north of Huntly should have long been completed, but information obtained by Newshub shows there's no expected date of completion for some of the planned work.

Work four-laning the Rangiriri section of the expressway began in January 2013, with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) seeking to improve connectivity between Waikato and Auckland.

Where are the Rangiriri and Longswamp sections of road?
Where are the Rangiriri and Longswamp sections of road? Photo credit: Newshub.

While the project was expected to be completed by December 2016, the section didn't open to four-lane traffic until April 2017.

Rangiriri residents should prepare for more work as final surfacing of the section hasn't yet started and, according to information provided to Newshub, it's also not known when that will be finished.

"The road surface must meet certain performance parameters prior to the final surfacing being applied," NZTA's acting senior manager project delivery Karen Boyt says.

"The testing has been undertaken and is currently being analysed. Once the analysis is completed and meets the performance parameters, the work will be programmed based on the sealing season and resource availability."

The surfacing would only result in "minimal disruption", according to the NZTA, but that may still mean possible lane closures.

A new local access road still also needs to be built.

Up the road, efforts to four-lane the Longswamp section are underway.

Work began in July 2016, with January 2019 set as the due date. That deadline has now come and gone, and the construction isn't expected to be finished until spring.

According to the NZTA, delays to the Rangiriri section were caused by "unforeseen earthworks conditions", while wet weather and a limited supply of necessary materials has pushed back the completion of the Longswamp stretch.

Timeline of Rangiriri construction.
Timeline of Rangiriri construction. Photo credit: Newshub.
Timeline of Longswamp construction.
Timeline of Longswamp construction. Photo credit: Newshub.

Nearly 300 workers - why's it taking so long?

Newshub spoke to several drivers who regularly use the road; the main southern route into New Zealand's largest city and, due to the roadworks, one that currently converges into one lane at 70km/h for nearly 6km.

Driver Lana Dutton says traffic can clog up significantly and questions the amount of work going on at the site.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time you drive through, it looks like there are zero people there working to get it up and running faster."

But the NZTA insists work is taking place and says, in November 2018, there was the full time equivalent of 273 workers involved in the construction of the two sections, working between 7am and 7pm Monday to Saturday.

Bruce Heberly, general manager of Roadcat shuttles in Hamilton, told Newshub he hadn't heard of any significant complaints from his drivers about the roadworks delaying their trips to Auckland Airport - but the section was on the company's radar.

"There is a little bit of a delay, but we haven't had our drivers say 'Hey, we are having problems with the roadworks'," he says.

"Yes, the roadworks are there. Yes, there is a little bit of stop and go. It is what it is until we get a better road."

The Rangiriri section after four-laning was finished.
The Rangiriri section after four-laning was finished. Photo credit: NZTA

It's not only drivers having to tolerate the massive road upgrade, residents in the Rangiriri and Te Kauwhata settlements have put up with the roadworks for the last six years.

Local Hugh Bolton suggested that, as there are few houses near the Longswamp section, workers could continue throughout the night to get the job done quicker.

"The timeframe it is taking to this, I feel, and I know this could be governed by resource consent, I am not sure why they are not 24-hour based," he said.

"With all the modern gear we have got, you wonder why it's taking so long."

But the NZTA says night work is normally avoided as there needs to be warm ground temperatures to help the chip seal set.

Bolton's also concerned about the amount of money "wasted" by workers he claims needlessly ripped up parts of the road already been completed, to essentially redo them.

While he admits he is no road expert, he can't see the point.

"I just marvel at the sheer waste of money that has taken....There could be a very legitimate reason for why they are doing it, but, to me, they build a fairly reasonable road, only to pull the whole bloody thing up."

Boyt says traffic is directed to drive on different sides of the road to "provide working room for the machinery required to construct the new section road".

Once that work is done, any temporary sections of road which were required are then removed.

"This may appear as work being redone, where it is in fact part of the construction process," she told Newshub.

Construction continues on the Longswamp section.
Construction continues on the Longswamp section. Photo credit: Newshub.

The upgrade is also still coming in under budget for the taxpayer, despite the delays.

Additional costs from delays to the Rangiriri section sit at $4 million on top of the $132 million initial budget - but only $128 million had been spent up to February this year.

For the Longswamp stretch, only $76 million of an allocated $122 million had left the coffers.

But Bolton said many in the community are tiring of the construction.

"Every person thinking about it is disgruntled about it in one way or another, and sometimes it is just simple things, but none of us are road experts. We look at it and go, 'why couldn't you have just done this'?"

Waikato MP Tim van de Molen told Newshub the only constituent concern raised with him regarded delays to an overpass bridge, which has now been completed.

NZTA says the benefits of the improved expressway will be more than just an easier trip, but also a more connected local community, with a new access roads and a pa in Rangiriri.

Boyt said the industry has risen to the challenge and would learn from lessons experienced.