Canberra and Queanbeyan tradespeople say the $86 million Ellerton Drive extension has been mismanaged, after a sub-contractor spiraled into voluntary administration and left 21 local businesses nearly $395,000 out of pocket.
Civil Bridge and Wharf, indebted to 63 companies nationally by nearly $3 million, appointed administrators on Friday, July 12. The company blames the project's head contractor, WBHO Infrastructure, for its downfall; with NSW Roads and Maritime Services having awarded it the job in 2017.
The debt includes more than $540,000 owed to the Australian Taxation Office.
"Our contract was terminated by WBHO on the 13th of May and it has left creditors and employees unpaid," director of Civil Bridge and Wharf, Jo Thomas, said.
"The onerous working conditions under WBHO's management contributed extensively to this position."
Ms Thomas says the company committed $8 million in resources to the project over a year. It stopped paying its staff at the Queanbeyan bypass project site in March, but WBHO indicated it would pay them instead.
A spokeswoman for WBHO said they were contractually unable to talk to media; any questions about the company would be answered by the Roads and Maritime Services, although they did not do so.
Of the local businesses caught in the crossfire of the companies' dispute, Queanbeyan's Austec Industrial Engineering are owed the most at more than $87,000.
Co-director Mike Bateup said that, despite them having stopped work on the Ellerton Drive extension under Civil Bridge and Wharf, the bridge moulds they designed were still being used by WBHO.
"The thing that annoys me is this is a two-tiered company on a government-sponsored roadworks," Mr Bateup said.
"In the big picture for them, it's a [$86 million] project. It's not a lot of money."
Mr Bateup would take legal action to get the moulds back. He had sought payment from WBHO and the Roads and Maritime Services, but no one had accepted liability.
"You've got a shape that's already defined; if I take my components back, they're stuffed really," Mr Bateup said.
"Sure, they can go get them re-designed and someone to build them but that might take six weeks.
"They're aware ... if they get the last pours done, they don't need us, so they can just discard us in the rubbish."
A spokesperson for a Canberra-based concrete company, who asked to remain anonymous, said an independent body should be appointed to handle government projects of Ellerton Drive's financial scale.
The Australian and NSW governments contributed $25 million each to its extension, while the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council contributed $36 million.
"You don't think a government project is going to end up putting you in this position," the spokesperson said.
Owner of RAR Cranes, Andrew Bodman, said the company lost about $50,000 on the Queanbeyan project. Civil Bridge and Wharf owed them nearly $23,000, while Hardy Bros Mining and Civil Construction - a company that left the job in February and went into liquidation in April - owed them the rest.
Hardy Bros' contact numbers had been disconnected, while their liquidator would not put The Canberra Times in touch.
It is understood the Australian Building and Construction Commission is investigating the Queanbeyan bypass project.
NSW Roads and Martime Services said it was working with WBHO to manage it and minimise disruption. It was on track for completion by mid-2020.