Covid-19: Supercity infrastructure projects grapple with lockdown restrictions

8:04 pm on 27 August 2021

The teams working on two of Auckland's biggest infrastructure projects have had to adapt to some major challenges as a result of the latest alert level 4 lockdown.

Watercare’s Hiwa-i-te-Rangi tunnel boring machine in Māngere.

Watercare’s Hiwa-i-te-Rangi tunnel boring machine in Māngere. Photo: Simon Runting

Tunnelling work on the $1.2 billion Central Interceptor project started in Māngere last month. The 14.7km sewer tunnel will run from Grey Lynn to the Māngere Wastewater Treatment Plant and is expected to be completed in 2025.

But, according to executive programme director Shayne Cunis, it came to a grinding halt last week due to Covid-19.

Cunis said the project's team had already been prepared for another lockdown.

"We always knew this was a possibility and we had recently reviewed our Covid plans, because the Government was sending signals that this could happen."

Cunis said under the Covid-19 public health response legislation, minimum basic operations are still permitted under alert level 4.

He said this includes "idling" the project's tunnel boring machine at Māngere and minor works at another site at Mt Roskill's May Rd. But he said less than 10 percent of the project's usual personnel are still on site during alert level 4.

Cunis said he expects the project's operations to be able to return to "normal" when Auckland shifts to alert level 3, but he said there will be greater onsite restrictions for staff, who will have to maintain social distancing and work in onsite bubbles.

He said the latest lockdown will affect the time it takes to complete the project, but he remained confident it can still be delivered on budget.

Across town, the team on the $4.4bn City Rail Link (CRL) project is also grappling with the challenges of alert level 4.

It is the largest transport project ever undertaken in New Zealand and involves the construction of a 3.45km twin-tunnel underground rail link beneath Auckland's city centre.

City Rail Link CEO Dr Sean Sweeney stands in the CRL tunnels under britomart train station.

City Rail Link CEO Dr Sean Sweeney stands in the CRL tunnels under britomart train station. Photo: Ryan Anderson / Stuff

The underground link will run from Britomart, up Albert St and onto Karangahape Rd before going under the motorway and linking up with the existing western line at Mt Eden. It is expected to be completed in 2024.

Chief executive Dr Sean Sweeney said a small team of workers is still on site to operate the project's tunnel boring machine, but the number of personnel has been reduced.

Tunneling work started in Mt Eden in May and Sweeney said the machine had been operating 24 hours a day, five days a week until last week.

"Tunnel boring machines are not designed to be 'parked' underground for an open-ended period - they need to keep moving forward, even at reduced capacity, to avoid the risk of getting stuck," Sweeney said.

"If that happened here, the costs and time involved in freeing the machine would be catastrophic and completely derail the project."

Sweeney said he expected the latest lockdown to have a "significant impact" on the project, but at this stage it is too early to say how much, in terms of costs and timelines.

A spokesperson from MBIE said they were unable to confirm what operations will look like for infrastructure projects such as the CRL and Central Interceptor at alert level 3.

They said while Construction Health and Safety New Zealand does have health and safety protocols for working under alert level 3, these could still be subject to change.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs