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Collaboration key to Mahia road project success

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A BUNCH of “top men and women” working together to improve the roads around Mahia say their uniquely-collaborative approach provides a great model for the future.

Announced by the Provincial Growth Fund in February, the Mahia Roading Resilience grant allocated $1 million to seal the road that leads to Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1. In addition, Wairoa District Council (WDC) received $300,000 to look at options for around the Peninsula and the Nuhaka-Opoutama Road; $6 million to fix issues around sealing, drains, culverts and safety on 12.5-kilometre Mahia East Coast Road; and $1 million for further sealing in 2021.

To get that big $6 million job done Wairoa lead contractors Quality Roading Services (QRS) took a novel approach, bringing in long-time competitors Fulton Hogan in a role more like a partnership than the sub-contracts traditionally used in the industry.

And WDC transport asset manager Mike Hardie says it's been a great success.

“We traditionally see companies use a sub-contracting model but because of the scale of the Mahia project, and the tight timescale, having QRS and Fulton Hogan work together has given us some great gains in efficiency.

“Both companies have pushed the project along by working to their strengths, and having a Wairoa company like QRS take the lead is definitely good for the region.”

As Engineers Rep for WSP New Zealand, Aaron Bright said the company worked with the contractors and council to provide a fit-for-purpose design to improve road quality and safety, that would come in on time and on budget.

“Good communication right from the beginning is key to achieving that,” he says, “and having the two big contractors working hand-in-hand has definitely streamlined the project.”

Meanwhile, leading the project for QRS is capital manager Mike Wilson, who has a long relationship with the Mahia area.

“My grandmother had a bach in Mahia from the 1920s and about a decade ago my dad moved there permanently so, as a family, we spend a lot of time on that Mahia East Coast Road,” he says.

“It's always been challenging and you'd never know what was coming around those winding corners . . . these days you might even be confronted by a rocket on a truck!

“So between us we're investing a lot of energy in fixing drop-offs, widening the road and straightening corners to improve sight-lines. Working to make it safer for everyone has been really rewarding.”

The Mahia East Coast Road project was due to be finished at the end of May 2020 but delays caused by the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown – and bad weather – may hold things up a little longer.

“But the fact that we're as far advanced as we are is credit to the co-operative relationship we have established,” Mike Wilson says.

Figuring out how the labour would be divided was easy – a Council-Controlled Trading Organisation owned by WDC, QRS already looks after the region's unsealed roads, with Fulton Hogan taking care of those that are sealed.

So while the scale of earthworks required at Mahia has kept QRS and local subbies Pryde Contracting busy, Fulton Hogan has concentrated on pavement stabilising, construction and sealing the road and will return in 2021 to add another seal coat.

“As well as being able to play to our strengths, working together meant we could accelerate the project start-up, saving months of time often spent on red tape and process,” says Fulton Hogan contracting divisional manager Rick Gardner.

 “Working to align strategies and principles is certainly my preference and in this case it's worked particularly well, much of that being down to the attitudes and behaviours of all parties involved. Basically, we've all been “top men and women” working together to get the job done to a high standard.”

The QRS/Fulton Hogan mateship is a collaborative approach that is smiled upon by WDC, and QRS chief executive Nigel Pollock says it sets Wairoa up to deliver larger and more contracts locally.

He describes the Mahia contract as a high-trust, low-ego model that sees the two companies and WDC focused on shared objectives.

“There are advantages in terms of efficiency. But the most important thing is that the decisions we make together are solely focused on what is best for the project, rather than for any individual company, and that's a win for everybody.”

Caption: Operator Tui Paikea and truck driver Jade Beattie from Quality Roading and Service take a break from widening a corner on section two of the Mahia East Coast Road improvement project. 

22 October 2020

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