Ara Tūhono – Pūhoi to Warkworth Motorway

By SHIFT Consultant, Bianca Miller

You may have heard about the new four lane motorway that has recently opened just north of Auckland. Even Mike Hosking has been raving about it. The ‘flash new motorway’ is the Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Warkworth PPP (Public Private Partnership) project between the Government and a private consortium, the Northern Express Group (NX2). Ara Tūhono means a connecting pathway (Ara meaning pathway/passage and Ara Tūhono means connecting or linking one part to another).

I have been seconded to NX2’s SPV working on the Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Warkworth PPP project. It is an example of the exciting work SHIFT Consultants can get involved in.

A bit of background about who is involved in the Pūhoi to Warkworth PPP. The Government Agency and client for the project is Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi). Following a RFP process Waka Kotahi partnered with NX2 in 2016. NX2 is responsible for financing, designing, building, maintaining and operating the motorway for up to 25 years. However, the motorway is a public asset. NX2 is made up of New Zealand and overseas firms with considerable experience in the design, construction, finance, maintenance and management of major infrastructure projects. The principal partners in the consortium the equity providers (Acciona Concesiones, Fletcher Building, ACC and Morrison and Co), the debt providers (ACC and both domestic and international banks), the construction sub-contractor (a JV between Acciona Infrastructure and Fletcher Construction) and the asset and maintenance sub-contractor (P2W Services, whose parent companies are Acciona Concesiones and Higgins).

NX2’s SPV is a small team with five full time staff. Working on the project has provided both extremely interesting work and a learning curve. No two days are the same. I get to work with a range of people who are experts in their fields (lots of engineers). I now feel somewhat an expert in pavement and bridge bolts! In any one day I can be advising on the project agreements, running a commercial meeting, advising the Board, liaising with the lenders’ agent on finance documents and instructing external legal counsel and advisors.

The motorway is designed to international standards to be one of the safest roads in New Zealand. The philosophy behind the design is to keep traffic at a constant speed rather than having vehicles speeding up and slowing down over different parts of the motorway. People using the motorway will have a truly scenic trip. Going through cut slopes of Pākiri sedimentary rock up to 50 metres high will give a sense of penetrating through the rock face. The steep cuts are also environmentally-friendly. The existing vegetation on the top of the hill is retained. The design of the motorway as a whole minimises the loss of existing vegetation.

The project will meet the high Greenroads standard. Greenroads is an international sustainability certification system that is specific to the design and construction of roading projects. NX2 is aiming to achieve a Greenroads Silver Rating for the project, the standard set by the Waka Kotahi. Greenroads will provide certification once all the construction works on the project have been completed and certified.

Having a Spanish firm like Acciona involved in the project has meant that the project has been able to bring both international experts into New Zealand and specialised equipment never seen before here. A special pavement laying machine was brought into New Zealand (along with its expert operator) just for the project that lays two lanes of asphalt at once. Traditionally in New Zealand only single laying machines have been used.

Like a lot of construction projects in New Zealand, and especially in the Auckland region, the project has suffered delays due to COVID. The motorway was originally scheduled for completion in October 2021. However, in June 2023 Waka Kotahi and NX2 negotiated an early access arrangement, allowing the new motorway to open while non-critical finishing works are undertaken. On 16 June 2023 an official ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the northern end of the motorway, with the Prime Minister in attendance, along with other dignitaries.

On the morning of the ribbon cutting ceremony the Treaty partners Hōkai Nuku (a collaboration between Ngāti Manuhiri, Te Uri o Hau, Ngāti Rango of Kaipara and Ngāti Whātua) invited guests to a dawn blessing. I was very privileged to receive an invite. It was a special experience walking along significant sections of the motorway first in the dark and then as the sun was coming up. It was raining that morning, which just added to the spiritual nature of the experience.

Now that the motorway is in operation the work continues. The construction sub-contractor is finishing works off the main alignment which are required to meet certification conditions and the asset and maintenance sub-contract is embedding its procedures into practice which covers the operating and maintenance of the road for the next 25 years before it is handed over to Waka Kotahi.

The project is an ‘availability’ PPP. This means that payments are not linked to traffic volumes. NX2 will be paid for making a safe road open and available to traffic.

If you haven’t done so already, take a drive on the new motorway to see what all the fuss is about!

NX2 Opening

NX2 Opening – Team photo

Brian Finn (Communications Manager), Anirudh Guda (Project Manager), Vicente Valencia (CEO), Bianca Miller, Steve Burris (Technical Manager), and Louise Swanson (EA to CEO).