Traffic congestion around Auckland today is officially worse than what it was yesterday, according to figures from road authorities.
The AA’s congestion-monitoring tool shows there were heavier delays this morning, particularly on the Northern Motorway, where the trip into the city centre from Albany peaked at around 80 minutes at 6.30am.
In comparison, that trip at the same time last Tuesday was about 15 minutes.
The data – based on Google travel time information – also indicated that more motorists were up earlier today in a bid to beat the traffic on the Northern Motorway.
“Travel times really started to build from about 5.30am,” a statement said.
By 7.30am, motorists were being told to go back to the harbour bridge as the alternative Western Ring Route was taking “well over two hours” to use to travel into the city.
The alert was issued after reports travel time via State Highways 18, 16 and 20 is taking about two-and-a-half hours.
“Please consider using SH1 south and allow extra time,” Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said.
A photographer in Massey, West Auckland, this morning said it had taken him 60 minutes to get from Don Buck Rd to the intersection near the Royal Rd on-ramp on to SH16.
“That’s not onto the motorway – that’s just getting to the junction,” he said.
“The only way you’re moving forward is when someone gives up and turns around, not because traffic is getting any better.”
It is traffic groundhog day in Auckland, with commuters once again in heavy traffic as work is due to begin to repair the city’s broken harbour bridge.
Commuters found themselves stuck in heavy congestion even before 6am as they tried to beat the morning rush and it only got worse from there.
Traffic cameras just before the Auckland Harbour Bridge showed long snaking lines of vehicles trying their best to get into the city.
Just before 7.30am, transport authorities put out an alert telling drivers to go to the city via SH1 – and the bridge – as the back way via the Western Ring Route is now taking “well over 2.5 hours”.
It seems despite people’s efforts to find an alternative way into the city centre, they are facing a long wait this morning.
Google sending motorists around the bend
Motorists are being reminded that the SH1 Curran St on-ramp, northbound, is closed to the public as it has been set up as part of a bus priority system.
That closure is until further notice, Waka Kotahi NZTA says.
There are detours via Sarsfield St, Shelly Beach Rd, Jervois Rd, College Hill on to Beaumont St and then onto Fanshawe St on-ramp northbound.
Adding to the headache for those trying to get around traffic is that the Curran St on-ramp route is still showing up as an option via Google Maps and on GPS systems.
Traffic bad across Auckland
The alternative routes are into Auckland are also looking bad.
By 7.20am, a drive from Albany to Manukau – via the Western Ring Route – was taking two hours and 50 minutes, the NZTA says.
Last night, many people found themselves stuck in gridlock traffic in the area as they had not heard about the closure of the route to the public.
Once again, people living on the North Shore who work in downtown Auckland are being asked to consider working from home, using alternative routes into the city centre or adjusting their work hours so they are travelling at non-peak hours.
The NZTA’s Auckland Motorways real-time traffic feature says it is taking 57 minutes to drive from Silverdale into the city via the bridge. That is usually a 17-minute trip, according to NZTA.
Anyone heading from Albany to go to Manukau is in for a trip taking about an hour and 10 minutes according to the site. Again, that trip usually takes about 24 minutes.
The drive into the CBD from Helensville, via the bridge, is about an hour and 48 minutes at the moment. Usually, that drive is about 37 minutes.
Work on the bridge to begin
Work on a temporary fix for Auckland’s Harbour Bridge is likely to start tonight with the view of opening up two additional lanes later this week.
Auckland motorists are being warned significant delays are likely for several weeks until the permanent fix for the bridge is in place when all lanes will eventually be reopened and it is back operating at full capacity.
Yesterday the city’s peak hour traffic appeared to last the entire day with motorists left at a standstill, especially around Curran St where the on-ramp onto SH1 was blocked off as part of a new priority bus lane introduced that afternoon.
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Some motorists were unaware of the change and sat in the queue for an hour waiting to hop on the motorway before being told it was closed and then getting stuck in further traffic.
Traffic was reduced to a crawl along Jervois Rd, College Hill, Shelley Beach Rd and Beaumont St with cars at a standstill along Franklin Rd frustrated motorists desperate to get home.
Strauss Bessell, a health and safety officer left a Wellesley St job site at 3pm bound for Northcote, a journey that usually takes him 15-20 mins.
Google Maps sent him via the closed Curran St motorway on-ramp and he was still on the road at 7.30pm.
He told Focus Live reporter Will Trafford he’d decided to park up in the Westhaven carpark and head to Commercial Bay for dinner, before trying his luck again at 9pm.
Another motorist said they tried to reach the top of Shelly Beach Rd to head to Mt Eden.
“After travelling 200 metres in 45 mins turned right to travel back from where I had come – in total 1hr 30mins!”
The bridge’s centre strut was damaged in a freak accident after strong winds of 128km/h blew two trucks over while they were driving over the bridge, causing damage to it on Friday afternoon.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency transport services general manager Brett Gliddon said bridge engineers were making good progress with both the temporary and permanent solutions.
The steel to temporarily repair the damaged strut had already arrived from Taranaki and he expected the installation would take between two to three nights.
The strut was in two pieces and bolted halfway up. The damaged bottom piece would be removed and replaced with some new steel which was currently being manufactured.
The southbound lanes would be closed between 9pm and 5am and traffic would be detoured to the Western Ring Route to allow for the work to be carried out.
Once the temporary solution was in place they would do “real live tests” with heavy vehicles travelling over the bridge before opening one additional lane in each direction to all traffic, including heavy vehicles, near the end of the week.
“This is a complex undertaking and has never been done before so the bridge team must do extensive testing on the bridge before opening it up to live traffic.”
The temporary solution was also undergoing its third independent peer review before the work began.
“We are not going to open it unless it is safe to do so and that we are 100 per cent, 100 per cent confident that it is going to work.”
The was no risk to the structural integrity or overall safety of the harbour bridge and the north and southbound clip-on lanes continued to be safe to use as they had their own supporting structure.
The permanent solution was in the design phase but still weeks away from installation as it involved replacing the entire strut.
“The challenge with the permanent solution was readjusting the bridge.” Engineers had to make sure that when they installed the new strut it wouldn’t affect the rest of the “dynamic” bridge. Gliddon said.
“I can assure you we are chucking a huge amount of resource at this.”
In the meantime NZTA continued to urge people to work from home for the next few days, or use public transport.
While there had been good deferral of traffic away from the harbour bridge – 30 per cent less northbound and 60 per cent southbound – there was still “quite severe congestion across the city” as more vehicles flow over to these state highways and local roads.
“This is going to require a change in travel patterns for some time,” Gliddon said.
On Monday morning motorists reported painful commutes where they crawled from the North Shore into the city with a Torbay resident saying the journey took him two hours and 35 minutes.
By 7.30am the usual 17-minute trip from Silverdale to Auckland CBD took 1 hour and 7 minutes.
A bus priority system has also been introduced and will run on State Highway 1 northbound to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It is aimed at reducing congestion for buses travelling to the North Shore and providing more reliable journeys for customers.
This bus priority system will allow buses to access the SH1 northbound on-ramp at Fanshawe St using the new priority lane and bypassing the queuing traffic. The Curran Street northbound on-ramp onto SH1 is closed to all traffic to improve safety for the merging bus and motorway traffic.
University of Canterbury Professor in Structural Engineering and Materials Alessandro Palermo said the cost of maintaining older bridges was higher and required more regular checks and more interventions. Given the harbour bridge had undergone variations and extensions it made the overall maintenance more complex, he said.
Palermo said having a sole link and relying on one structure was not resilient for the city and questioned whether it was time for Auckland to look at building a new bridge.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it the incident had been described as a “one in 50 year event”. In a matter of seconds the wind speed almost doubled and at the same time a truck happened to be on the bridge, causing it blow over, she said.
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