Auckland's transport strategy

The Auckland Harbour Bridge and its approaches are at the stage they can’t cope with much more traffic yet the population of the Auckland region continues to grow at a steady rate. Getting people and freight quickly from one end of the city to the other is difficult, but plans are in place to alleviate the problem.   BY MARY SEARLE

Motorway_2.jpgNot only home to New Zealand’s largest city and one third of its population, Auckland’s port is one of the country’s largest. And 140 kilometres north of the city is Marsden Point, the country’s only deepwater port. Consequently the harbour bridge is vital to getting goods from the north to the south and vice versa.

The original steel truss bridge is a very solid structure, with 100+ years of life left in it, according to NZ Transport Agency Auckland and Northland regional director Wayne McDonald.

The box girders, clipped on to add an extra four lanes to the bridge, have another 30 to 40 years until they’ll need to be replaced. They are currently undergoing strengthening to prolong their life, and, as part of this, heavy vehicles are no longer permitted to travel on them, and possibly won’t be allowed to once the strengthening is completed.

Even so, there’s not much more capacity in the bridge for vehicles, also there is no central pedestrian or cycle access across the harbour, and there’s no rail to the North Shore suburbs either.

The NZTA is currently is looking at another harbour crossing. The favoured option is a tunnel – or four tunnels actually; two for road and two for rail.

Motorway_3.jpgThe idea is that traffic bypassing the city – all that freight to South Auckland and the rest of the country – will use the tunnel, while the bridge will be used predominately by commuters heading into and out of the city. This lowered demand on the bridge will allow space to be allocated for cyclists and pedestrians.

The time to consent and construct the tunnels is estimated to take around 13 years and cost $3 billion to $4 billion dollars. With at least 30 years to undertake this project, time is still on the NZTA’s side. However, McDonald and his colleague

Tommy Parker, manager state highways Auckland, say, at the moment, the NZTA is busy working to protect the designated route – ensuring developments in the next decade or two won’t impinge on the proposed site.

There is currently a second harbour crossing on State Highway 18, the Upper Harbour Highway, to the northwest of the city, However State Highway 18 joins State Highway 16, the Northwestern Motorway, which promptly swings in and joins State Highway One in the heart of the city at what is know as Spaghetti Junction. Here, during peak hours, traffic is at a crawl.

The relief to this will be the completion of the Western Ring Route (comprising SH18, part of SH16 and SH20 to the south). It splits from State Highway One 12 kilometres north of the city, joining it again 20 kilometres to the south, allowing vehicles to bypass the city centre completely.

At this stage the Western Ring Route is largely finished, with four of the five final pieces currently under construction and due to be completed in time for the Rugby World Cup in October 2011.

Motorway_1.jpgHowever, as the Western Ring Route passes through the suburbs of Waterview and Mt Albert it reverts to suburban streets, complete with traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and a 50kph speed limit. Because of this freight trucks stick to State Highway One and commuter traffic on the Northwestern Motorway too often chooses to come onto State Highway 1, despite the congestion, when heading to the southern suburbs of the city.

This vital last piece, the Waterview Connection, is a bit of a political hot potato, with the previous prime minister Helen Clark having her electorate in Mt Albert and promising her voters and neighbours that an above ground Waterview Connection wouldn’t happen. Problem is, the underground option is twice the price and limited to two lanes in each direction. But with a new government in place, things are likely to change. And whether and underground or overground option is chosen in the end, the Western Ring Route is on the cards to be completed soon – it has recently been listed by the Minister of Transport as one of seven ‘roads of national significance’ and as such has been singled out for priority treatment.

When finally finished Auckland’s strategic route will be ladder shaped: State Highway One and State Highway 16 making up the two sides, with a number of ‘rungs’ connecting them, allowing traffic to shift from one main route to the other if an accident or congestion necessitates it. 

Contractor, Auckland Harbour Bridge Special Supplement, May 2009
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