Coronavirus: New Zealand's largest infrastructure projects restart under alert level 3

Work on many of New Zealand's largest infrastructure projects will resume on Tuesday as the country transitions out of lockdown level 4 and into alert level 3.

At level 3 businesses can operate if they can function without the need for face-to-face interactions with customers and implement strict health and safety protocols, including physical distancing. That means among the estimated 400,000 Kiwis heading back to work are 1000 road and rail workers and many more in construction.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Transport Minister Phil Twyford confirmed on Tuesday that KiwiRail is starting back up almost all of its projects, including the Kaikōura rebuild and Wellington Metro upgrades. Auckland's City Rail Link - the country's largest infrastructure project - will also see workers back onsite. 

More than half of the NZ Transport Agency's 44 state highway projects will restart work, including Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth while all other projects are expected to begin again by Monday.

"We've worked hard to help cushion the blow from COVID-19 with initiatives like the wage subsidy and advance payments to transport contractors and we know the industry is now raring to go," Peters said.

"We're putting our money where our mouth is and getting people back to work day one of alert level 3 so we can get money into the pockets of businesses and workers sooner."

Twyford said "more infrastructure projects like these" and others supported via the New Zealand Upgrade Programme will help stimulate the economy. 

"It's too soon to say whether COVID-19 has had any effect on construction timeframes on individual projects. My expectation is that project teams will look at accelerating works where possible," he said.

Also restarting this week is work on more than 60 Provincial Growth Fund projects which Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says represents $439.8 million worth of investment.

"The purpose of the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has always been to stimulate regional economies and create sustainable employment. That purpose is even more critical now, in these unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic," Jones said on Tuesday.

"Our regions will play a vital role in the recovery of the national economy so it is crucial we get people back to work safely as soon as possible and for PGF projects to continue to be rolled out."

Among those projects seeing work recommence on Tuesday are the Kaipara roading package in Northland, repairs to 300 metres of the Westport Airport seawall damaged in 2018 by ex-Cyclone Fehi, and work on track improvements on the Taranaki Crossing.

Jones said the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) is assessing applications where PGF money could be repurposed towards projects that can "contribute quickly to an economic recovery in the regions". 

"In addition to the PGF, the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group, led by Crown Infrastructure Partners chairman Mark Binns, is continuing to whittle down a list of more than 2000 proposals totalling $125 billion that have been received since we put a call out for applications for shovel-ready projects," Jones said.

"Ministers are expected to receive a shortlist of potential pipeline projects in the next fortnight with the aim of getting them started as soon as possible."

New Zealand is expected to be at alert level 3 for at least two weeks. Cabinet will decide on May 11 whether to extend the restrictions or move the country to alert level 2.