Equipment, not weather, now blamed for arterial surface failure

by Kim Bowden - Mar 08, 2024

The story of what caused a section of freshly poured asphalt on Queenstown's arterial road to be ripped up has changed this afternoon.

While yesterday evening the Queenstown Lakes District Council claimed in a post to Facebook weather conditions were the culprit, today in response to questioning by Crux it indicates the fault now lies with dodgy testing equipment.

Council infrastructure boss Tony Avery says, "Whilst cooler temperatures were initially thought to be part of the problem, a more detailed investigation has confirmed that this did not contribute to issues with the asphalt".

Instead, the problem stems from a nuclear density meter, that threw up false readings during compaction testing.

"The project team completed field monitoring during compaction using a nuclear density meter which indicated peak compaction was being achieved. Subsequent lab testing of the laid material – a standard part of the quality process – indicated excessive air voids," Mr Avery says.

"Once serviced, results from a second round of testing more closely aligned with the lab test. Whilst this situation is unfortunate, the alliance is working as quickly as possible to reinstate and complete the asphalting in this area."

Mr Avery says 1,349 square metres of asphalt is affected by the error, but who is to blame and who is to pay "is still being finalised".

He would not single out any one branch of the alliance, saying, "the alliance is responsible for delivering the works, whether directly or through sub-contracting".

He says the work was happening ahead of schedule, "so hasn't affected the project's overall timing".

Some of the faulty material will be saved from landfill for now, with Mr Avery confirming that, where possible, it "is being stockpiled for future (temporary) use" across other worksites managed by the alliance. 

Crux heard from several local residents this week who reported feeling bewildered watching a section of Frankton Road be laid with fresh asphalt, only to see it ripped up and removed by truck not long after.

Late yesterday, the Queenstown Lakes District Council published details of what happened on its Facebook page, advising scheduled night work at the Frankton Road site had "been extended" after "affected asphalt" had needed removing.

It blamed the week's "cooler weather", and said the redo was proof "quality assurance processes" were "working well".

But the post and subsequent story on Crux did not sit well with many readers, including several with extensive experience in civil construction, who contacted us with follow-up questions for decision makers on the site.

The arterial road project is being delivered by Kā Huanui a Tāhuna, an alliance formed by the council and the New Zealand Transport Agency, along with two construction companies and two design companies, Downer NZ, Fulton Hogan, Beca and WSP.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council acts as a gatekeeper for media seeking to speak to managers on the roading project, and a request by Crux for an interview with a project manager has gone unanswered today.

The required asphalt redo is the second mistake on the project to make headlines this week - on Monday, rain washed gravel and silt from another area of the project site down Ballarat Street, forcing its closure as diggers and workers were redeployed to clean up the mess.

Diggers were needed to clear gravel and silt from Ballarat Street after rain washed it down from the arterial road worksite, Monday, March 4, 2024 (Images: NZTA and QLDC).

The council told Crux, in response to that event, "A review will be completed shortly to establish what measures are required to prevent this reoccurring".

In February, district councillors approved almost $18 million in more spending to complete stage one of the project, which has blown out to $128 million.

During discussion around the council table before the decision was made a representative of the alliance confirmed 40 to 60 management level positions are actively overseeing the project, which covers less than one-kilometre of road.

A local construction worker contacted Crux today to say they had had a "gutsful" of hearing about ongoing mistakes and budget increases on the project.

It is their opinion the alliance inhibits accountability.

The worker is one of half a dozen who have contacted Crux in the last 24 hours on the topic.

Main image: Freshly-poured asphalt has been ripped up off a stretch of Frankton Road.

Read more:

QLDC rips up new arterial road surface due to 'cooler' weather

Arterial road runoff shuts Queenstown's Ballarat Street


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