Farewell and hello again

From Tommy Parker, general manager, System Design & Delivery, New Zealand Transport Agency.

THERE’S NO DOUBT that since joining the NZ Transport Agency, or Transit NZ as it was then known back in 2005, my various roles have allowed me to enjoy ‘the best seat in the house’ watching and contributing to the huge changes within the contracting industry itself and also wider New Zealand.

For me, it has been a rewarding privilege to be involved first hand in the unprecedented growth in contracting and infrastructure, first in Auckland and Northland, and in my current national role as general manager, System Design and Delivery.

During the past 13 years, the industry and the Transport Agency have both transformed. Together, we have a lot to celebrate in terms of our contributions to improving the transport system to help New Zealand become a more prosperous nation.

When I moved to New Zealand from the UK, we were just about to open the Greenhithe extension of State Highway 18 on Auckland’s North Shore. Delivering that project marked the start of a huge programme of work to improve Auckland’s motorways, and eventually, with the Waterview Connection project, complete the Western Ring Route to ease pressure on State Highway 1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

It was a remarkable journey and one that both the contracting industry and Transport Agency can be proud of. The highlights we share are many: completing the duplicate bridge spanning the Manukau Harbour on the Southwestern Motorway and the Victoria Park Tunnel well ahead of schedule; and the outstanding innovation behind the replacement of the Newmarket Viaduct with little disruption to drivers using the country’s busiest section of highway.

There is much more:

  • Auckland’s northern busway.
  • The high-tech Auckland Transport Operations Centre.
  • The use of tolls to bring forward by several years construction of the Northern Gateway Toll Road.
  • State highway projects across New Zealand: the extension of the Waikato Expressway, Transmission Gully and other works to improve resilience and efficiency in Wellington, and the extension of the Christchurch motorway network.
  • The huge shift in our focus on the communities we work besides: providing shared cycle/pedestrian paths, recreational amenities, and the outstanding urban design and landscaping we have achieved that includes striking noise walls and footbridges. The quality of this work has rightly been recognised with the awards some of these works have won.
  • The outstanding collaboration with community groups, the contracting industry, and KiwiRail and the Transport Agency on the Kaikoura recovery programme.

At a personal level, the Waterview Connection project has been the stand-out project. For me, there was a great deal of satisfaction in getting approval for such a huge and challenging project over the line.

And for the country’s contracting industry, Waterview signalled a change in gear in terms of project delivery. It demonstrated what New Zealanders could achieve – the delivery of complex and challenging infrastructure that met the highest world-class standards. The industry is much more confident and innovative than it used to be.

One of the great areas of progress is the way the Transport Agency and the industry now work together. We have worked hard at better collaboration. A lot of time has been invested in getting a clearer understanding on how we work and I think that’s paid off handsomely.

An example is the Transport Agency’s review of maintenance and operating contracts and the input from the industry that led to the creation of the Road Efficiency Group (REG).

The review’s objective was to find better ways to work together and find a more effective way to look after our roading assets. I believe that we now have a better model to achieve that.

When I spoke at the last NZ Institute of Highway Technology conference, I challenged that sector to think 10 years ahead and consider what our pavements will look like then, what new materials we might be using in the future and what would a joint physical and digital transport system look like?

It’s not just the NZIHT; we all have a stake in that future. Rapid change is coming. The transport systems we use, how we build and operate these, and the vehicles or modes of transport we use to move around will all be affected in some way by digital technology.

Whatever the future holds, many opportunities lie ahead. The land transport system will remain critical to connect communities, move freight, and allow people to get to and from work, school and social events whether by private car, public transport, cycling or walking.

The Kaikoura earthquake, the impact of the summer storms, and a general view among scientists that climate change with its rising sea levels and temperatures is happening faster than predicted, are reminders of the fragility of the New Zealand landscape.

I leave the Transport Agency this month to take up a new challenge as general manager Infrastructure for Fletcher Construction, in essence transferring my skills to the other side which will be challenging and is a great opportunity for me at this time of my career.

The Transport Agency has transformed in the last year to be fit for the future. It is better positioned to respond to the rapid changes in technology, to work closer in partnership to unlock the social and economic prosperity of our regions, and most importantly, to make it easier for people to get the most out of their life.

I leave the organisation in good heart, with an extremely capable team of long-serving, experienced staff to continue delivering the world-class transport system this country needs for the future – and I look forward to continuing to work with this team in my new role.

I thank all my Transport Agency colleagues, past and present, and those I have worked with in the wider construction industry for your fantastic support and friendship. You have all helped make my job easier and satisfying.

To all of you, thank you.

This article was first published in Contractor‘s April issue. 

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