Friday, October 31, 2008

The Fulton Hogan Syndrome

Let me tell you about my jinxed relationship with roading contractors Fulton Hogan.

My heart sinks whenever I see one of their trucks on the road ahead. Almost invariably it means delays, often for no obvious reason.

After years of observation I’ve concluded that FH is the contracting industry’s answer to the mad Irish builder played by David Kelly in Fawlty Towers. Every project they are involved in seems to take an eternity to complete. And just when you think the job is finished, it turns out something was stuffed up and they have to come back and redo it.

Any resident of the Kapiti Coast reading this will nod knowingly. For two and a half years, commuters chafed with frustration as Fulton Hogan turned what looked like a relatively straightforward job – the building of the McKay’s Crossing overbridge north of Paekakariki – into an epic undertaking to rival the construction of the Panama Canal. Months would pass with no visible sign of progress. Pharmaceutical companies put on extra shifts to meet the demand for blood pressure prescriptions from exasperated commuters. (Alright, I made that bit up.)

Great was the rejoicing when the job was pronounced completed, but it turned out to be premature. Barely a year later, great chunks of the new highway were being ripped up again and resealed.

I wrote about this in my Curmudgeon column at the time and received an email from someone suggesting it wasn’t Fulton Hogan’s fault at all, but incompetent engineers employed by Transit (or whatever it was called that month). While I was perfectly prepared to believe the worst of Transit – after all, these are the dolts who conceived the bizarre experiment of the “T2” lanes at Mana, now about to be abandoned – I wasn’t prepared to let FH off the hook.

I had seen too many examples of their handiwork elsewhere – in the Wairarapa, for example. Hitler’s construction genius Albert Speer would have built an entire autobahn in the time it took Fulton Hogan to put in a simple passing lane on a flat, straight road south of Greytown.

In that column I suggested Fulton Hogan’s motto must be “maximum inconvenience for minimum benefit”. Frequently I see one or two big FH trucks on the Hutt motorway, ostentatiously flashing arrows at motorists indicating one lane is closed. Traffic duly slows and forms into one lane, and several hundred metres later the reason for this ridiculous pantomime becomes clear: a smaller FH truck is pulled over on the side of the motorway, well out of the way of any traffic, while a solitary workman clears a drain or picks up rubbish.

This is a symptom of what I now call the Fulton Hogan Syndrome. If a job calls for one man and one truck, send half a dozen to ensure maximum disruption. While one does the work, the others create a protective blockade.

I had a classic Fulton Hogan moment one evening last week. Taking a cab into Auckland from the airport about 8pm, I commented to the driver as we approached Newmarket that it was the quickest run I’d ever had into the city.

Ha! I spoke too soon. The words had barely left my mouth than we turned a corner and were confronted by a phalanx of Fulton Hogan trucks blocking most of the street. It took about five minutes to negotiate our way through this gauntlet – plenty of time in which to study the Fulton Hogan syndrome at leisure. I can report that it was a textbook case presenting all the usual symptoms: lots of stationary trucks with flashing lights, lots of men in high-vis vests standing around talking, and no evidence whatsoever of anything actually being done.

Oh, and the most important symptom of all, one that no Fulton Hogan moment would be complete without: a lot of irritated motorists thinking there must be a more efficient way to spend our taxes.

1 comment:

macdoctor said...

Fulton Hogan Moments are kindly brought to us by OSH and Transit NZ (who clearly have no concept of the term penalty clause when designing construction contracts)