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Vic Park Tunnel – causing traffic jams

It’s tempting to be amused by the various stories that have emerged this week about the new Victoria Park Tunnel causing huge congestion. The obvious amusing argument to make is that, just like we saw with the opening of the SH20-SH1 Manukau Connection, the opening of a motorway has just shifted the congestion or – in this case – actually created an even worse problem than we used to have. Now obviously such conclusions would be a bit premature, as while the Victoria Park Tunnel is open we are yet to see any increase in capacity along the stretch of road – that will have to wait until early next year when a third lane northbound opens and the two previously northbound lanes on the viaduct become southbound.

Yet the problems of the last few days do seem pretty extreme:

Nightly traffic jams on Auckland’s Southern Motorway are still being blamed on drivers’ unfamiliarity with the new Victoria Park tunnel, four days after two of its three lanes were opened.

Traffic was by about 4.30pm today backed up to Otahuhu, at least 13 kilometres south of the 450-metre one-way northbound tunnel. By 6pm the queue had shrunk slightly, with the tail at Mt Wellington.

Queuing to reach the tunnel has frustrated commuters every evening since Monday, when two of the tunnel’s three lanes were opened for the first time, replacing the northbound carriageway of the Victoria Park motorway viaduct.

I somewhat struggle to believe that unfamiliarity would have this effect. Sure it might lead some people to drive a bit slower the first time they pass through the tunnel, or be a bit weirded out by different angles to the beginning and end of the tunnel to what they’re used to – but I struggle to believe that this would lead to the huge traffic jams that have been reported.

NZTA touch on one of the reasons behind the congestion:

In a bulletin issued today, the Transport Agency said there were indications that many commuters who normally travelled home on the Northwestern Motorway were queuing to use the tunnel instead.

I do suspect that quite a lot of people who have avoided the Victoria Park Viaduct in their travels over the past few years – perhaps travelling through Westmere and Herne Bay if they were coming from the west and heading to the North Shore, travelling through the city if they’re coming from the Port/Parnell area as well as travelling via SH16 then SH18 for people heading to the very northern part of the North Shore. With all the announcements about how important the tunnel is and the fanfare which accompanied its opening, I suspect quite a few people thought they could stop avoiding the bottleneck and changed their routes – only to become the congestion. Perhaps people who have left earlier or later than the peak also felt they’d no longer need to do so.

I suspect what we’re seeing is a classic case of induced demand, but weirdly almost a case of “perceived induced demand” because there hasn’t been an increase in capacity (yet), just a huge misunderstanding by the general public. NZTA are correct that this will “settle down” over the next few days and weeks, but once the third northbound lane is added I suspect that things will also “settle down” to the same level of congestion as we had before the project was constructed.

And remember, compared to most motorway projects, this is one that makes sense.

40 comments to Vic Park Tunnel – causing traffic jams

  • John Dalley

    At this stage off course, it is still only two lanes and i would nopt expect the flow to be any better than the old viaduct.
    I see that Stephen Joyce is claiming this project and one of HIS roads of national significance. Is this correct or was it approved under Labour? Just curious.

  • I still reckon that northbound travel times aren’t going to reduce that much, even when the third lane opens. Southbound might be a different story, as the existing flyover is converted to four dedicated lanes.

    I hope, though, that there is a serious post-implementation review with this six months down the track. Too often with motorway projects we are none the wiser if the travel time saving goals of the project are realised.

    • I agree that we’ll still have a northbound bottleneck.

      Do you know if the Wellington St onramp has reopened yet? If it has, then that might be a reason behind the congestion. I think it should have been closed permanently.

      • Swan

        Wellington St is not open yet. I use the tunnel, and used to use the viaduct everyday. The tunnel does seem worse, but it may simply due to more traffic. I have a working hypothesis that the grades aren’t helping. On the viaduct, traffic used to speed up about half way along, by virtue of being on the “other side” of the bottle neck (the bottle neck being getting onto the viaduct itself). Now that “acceleration point” coincides with the low point in the tunnel. So instead of everyone smoothly accelerating away, you get a lot of variation. You have to go from (congestion-induced, down-hill induced) zero throttle to full throttle very quickly and a lot of drivers aren’t that on the ball.

        Also, related but slightly different, is that going down hill into the tunnel people will get on the brakes. Others seeing brake lights might slam on theirs causing a ripple effect.

  • John Dalley

    Thanks Cameron, i thought as much. That lying little weasel that is Stephen Joyce should be treated as less than pond scum by Auckland voters.

    • Bob Scott

      Wouldn’t it be nice if ANY voters had the chance to show what they think of Steven Joyce. At 13 on the National list, he’s guaranteed a seat in Parliament (and a minister’s salary?) without ANYONE voting for him at all.

      • Doloras

        Bob, you can deal to Joyce by not voting for National or any of its likely coalition partners.

        • David

          The only exception to that rule is if you happen to live in the Epsom electorate, where your electorate vote should be for the National candidate Paul Goldsmith to keep ACT out of parliament.

        • Joshua

          The problem with that is the only reason I have for not voting national is the transport priorities they assign. There are lots of reasons for not voting Labour, so for me is not an option.

  • Matt L

    Joyce has been quoted numerous times as saying that this will take 20 minutes off peoples journey times which seems and absolutely outlandish statement, following the recent events I wonder if the base line is from now rather than from before it opened.

    • Looks like I could have a lot of fun with this tunnel and paradoxes.

      With a 20 minute time saving, I should try to call myself when I arrive in Northcote on my weekly off-peak commute from Mt Albert to see if I’ve left yet, because according to Mr Joyce’s statistic, I’ll have arrived in Northcote one minute before I leave Mt Albert.

  • Cdubya

    I have no issues with the tunnel and have found the commute at 7:45am every morning easy. Southbound over Vic Park at 5-5:30 is flowing until near Newmarket where it gets congested. Time will tell on the full extent, but to think this will solve further congestion issues nothing short of diatribe. The road and motorway imnprovements will have overall improvements, but to what scale a percentage improve is debatable.

    The root of the problem is from Newmarket to Mt Wellington in both directions, building a better road network to try and cope is not the answer. People HAVE to find alternative access routes, and this lies solely with rail. Shifting people from the roads to rail is paramount for Aucklanders, visitors and the city. This is the only way forward over time to make a significant effect on peak hour traffic.

  • Sanctuary

    “…Do you know if the Wellington St onramp has reopened yet? If it has, then that might be a reason behind the congestion. I think it should have been closed permanently…”

    I HATE this arrogant attitude from PT proponents. Why should Wellington Street stayed closed? Have you tried getting to the Shore from Eden Terrace/Kingsland/Mt Eden with the Wellington street on ramp closed? Ever tried navigating Ian McKinnon/Upper Queen Street/K rd/Pitt Street/Nelson Street/Wellesley Street West/Victoria Street/Beaumont St to get to the motorway? It is a pain in the arse, and having someone being a supercillious dick and telling me I should put up with it and Wellington Street on ramp should stay closed – without a viable PT alternative for twenty years – just gets people backls up and undermines support for PT in general.

    Sure, make the motorway system more difficult to access as a traffi control measure. But only AFTER there is decent cross city PT transport links.

    /rant over/

    • My Wellington St suggestion has nothing to do with PT. I suggested it because the Wellington St ramp stuffs up traffic on the motorway.

    • Sanctuary, I drive between the Shore and Eden Tce all the time, I find that the best way is to use Nugent St and Grafton Rd to access the motorway at Wellesley St, and bypass all the crap around upper Queen, K Rd, Pitt, and whatever. Getting to Wellington St itself is a nightmare anyway, can’t say I’ve missed it while closed cos I avoided it like the plague anyway.

    • arnie03

      Wellington St is not an easy access ramp for the locations you come from. Surely you would be best served getting on the Northwestern at St Lukes Road and then use the northern link to get onto the Northern if coming from Kingsland. From Eden Terrace and Mt Eden on at Kyber Pass and around at Gillies Ave is way quicker than trying to get across town at peak.

      “I HATE this arrogant attitude from PT proponents.”

      What is arrogant about suggesting closing a ramp that offers little in the way of added access and much in the way of added congestion? This is by far the closest ramp to my house to get on the northern but in terms of time taken it’s better to head across Ponsonby and Herne Bay and get on at Curran St. PT proponents drive too you know, there isn’t a whole lot of choice in this town at present given the huge past and ongoing investment in a single transport mode.

      • Some time ago Admin suggested replacing the Wellington St onramp with one at Newton… I thought then that this was worth a good look, here: http://transportblog.co.nz/2010/07/22/wellington-street-onramp-to-close-for-3-months/

        But still the real issue is that SH1 in AK city has two contradictory tasks and is therefore poor at both for much of the time: it can’t decide whether it is for intra urban [getting little Jack to Grammar] or inter-city travel [Hamilton to Whangarei, say]. The former means there are too many on and off ramps for a real freeway, and the latter means that there is too much high speed through traffic for an urban amenity.

        Of course it was not planned to be SH1, that was always meant to be what we are now completing [as the FINAL piece of the AK motorway jigsaw]; the Western Ring Road.

        Urban freeways are a shit idea, and are being removed the world over.

        • Heard an interesting rumour that Wellington St onramp may not be reopened. It’ll be interesting to see whether that pans out.

          • Do you mean not reopened until the third lane of the tunnel is opened next year, or not re-opened at all?

            Hell of a waste of time and money if you mean not re-opened at all!

          • Ari

            I’ve heard this rumour as well, but not confirmed. Something about it being used as emergency access only to the tunnel.

        • arnie03

          Before reading the link above I had a quick look at google maps and thought ‘Newton Rd to Northern Link’. Excellent idea. This wouldn’t be expensive and would stop the congestion Wellington St causes.

  • Let’s be fair here, Victoria Park Tunnel will effectively complete the considerable work done to ensure that there is a good balance of capacity going through CMJ. The delays are due to people wanting to try the tunnel out (life’s exciting in Auckland), and quite simply it isn’t fixed yet.

    It isn’t “perceived induced demand” really, in that sightseeing is short term, and route changing is more a matter of people reverting to what they may otherwise have done. Given the lack of capacity here, it only takes a 5% increase to jam the whole thing up. However, the impression given of chronic queues is that it is a huge increase in traffic, it’s not. However, the big relief will come not just from the third lane but from running tidal flow lanes south of the bridge, and the four lanes southbound.

    However, Swan makes a useful point about the grade. This should never have been a tunnel in the first place. The original proposal was to duplicate the viaduct, to match the capacity, but heavy lobbying from St Mary’s Bay Residents’ Association, supported by Judith Tizard saw the tunnel proposal. Of course, they pushed for it to be tunnels for both directions, but there is a major problem doing a southbound tunnel, because the gradient would be severe coming out of it, resulting in negatives such as fuel consumption and emissions, especially for heavy vehicles. The hope is that it becomes academic and a new harbour crossing is what feeds it so it can be integrated in a way to mitigate that. That goldplating of this project more than doubled the cost, although I didn’t see too many public transport advocates/Green politicians arguing against it (particularly given how the Victoria Park Tunnel generates considerable property value benefits to nearby residents which they aren’t paying for).

    I’m curious at your comment “compared to most motorway projects, this is one that makes sense”. List all motorway projects and then explain why most of them don’t make sense? Besides Puhoi-Wellsford and Transmission Gully, both cases of going overboard to solve some problems, what else?

    • I should clarify that I meant “compared to most RoNS projects”. Parts of the Waikato Expressway not yet built, plus most of the Wellington Northern Corridor are further examples of projects that don’t make sense.

      And I’m not just talking about BCRs, also talking about things like balancing the benefits with the impact of the projects (particularly the Wellington project).

      That said, I would be interested to know whether Grafton Gully has achieved the benefits it was supposed to. It seems like a vastly oversized piece of infrastructure most time I look.

      • Fair point. I agree that neither the Huntly nor the Hamilton East bypasses of the Waikato Expressway are worth building yet, although all of the rest are (most of them have significant safety benefits). The only part of the Wellington Northern Corridor I think is low value is Transmission Gully.

        Grafton Gully was interesting as it was the cheapest of the three options put forward and the easiest to do. If you look back the other options included grand viaducts to the Port, which were far from necessary. The key reason Grafton Gully made any sense was to take the Port traffic off of the waterfront AND the “eastern corridor” as it stands. I think it has succeeded in doing that.

    • HaHa, Liberty’s been inhaling the air around the Westway again. What Vic Park should have been, and was to have been, until the looney new harbour bridge lobby got into Joyce’s head, was a whole tunnel. A proper job, not the half pie thing we’re left with. That is; the undergrounding of both directions. And the cost of doing it now from Fletchers was a steal, and we won’t have that opportunity again at that price.

      But no, says the sage of Metroland, and eight lane viaduct is what we should have here, much better. Brilliant.

      What leads to backward opinion like this is a worldview that only admits of one thing as important: how assets and services are paid for. This is cost accountancy lifted up to the level of an all explaining philosophy with a seductive name. Neo-liberalism. Of course what it really is is a reductive narrowing of view that simply chooses to ignore life in the round. Perfect for autists; a credo of over-simplified selfishness that admits of no society, no community, no life beyond the transactional.

      Now, of course, how we pay for things is a real and important part of every analysis especially when we are operating collectively to invest in infrastructure for the common good. But it is not the only issue, and you can see why with this comment above. For if it is then we should only ever build the cheapest thing for the shortest term, that has the most direct and easy to understand line of direct payment. Bingo! Eightlane flyovers through public amenities.

      This is truly cart before the horse. And laughably daft. Always listen to the cost accountants; never let them take charge.

      • Um Patrick, so does the issue of a southbound Victoria Park tunnel that has an incline akin to the one of the northbound tunnel not actually occur to you as being a problem?

        Actually the most important value for me is life, I’m not an accountant, never have been and never considered myself a neo-liberal. (what label do you give yourself out of curiosity?) Not a single objectivist or libertarian I know even resembles your self-manufactured caricature of what my philosophy is. Your interpretation is one you’ve made in your own solipsistic way to suit your own ideology – which is one which I think treats the state as a big all-embracing embodiment of society and community, and to hell with those who don’t agree, don’t fit that mould and don’t think themselves as means to an end, rather than ends in their own right.

        It embraces life in its whole, with adults interacting voluntarily as family, friends, neighbours, traders, employers, employees and the rest. Whilst Marxists reduce everything down to economic relations, those of us who believe in individual freedom regard human beings being free to be more important than economic efficiency – i.e. if slavery could be proved to be efficient it wouldn’t make it right.

        Presumably you approve of motorists making a small minority of very wealthy property owners in St Mary’s Bay that much wealthier by shifting a long standing piece of infrastructure underground. Quite why is beyond me. That is why i objected to the tunnel, it was a wealth transfer to those who could afford to pay for it, and couldn’t be completed in the other direction.

        Now I’d agree that had things been thought of differently when Victoria Park Viaduct was originally built, much of CMJ should have been in a cut and cover tunnel – which is what I’d like to see over time. However, you wont believe me since you are quick to pigeon hole me into your own category to fit your grand collectivist goal – I am either with you or against you, and woe betide those against big collectivists who want to act for the common good.

        • Why does it always have to come down to private property and personal wealth? What about me, don’t get a say or a benefit from what happens to a public park and a public road? I couldn’t give two shits about the property owners in St Mary’s Bay to be honest, but I’d certainly like it if there wasn’t a freeway running over the top of our park, let alone one twice the size.

          • Swan

            Affects on the park should definitely be taken into account. But on that basis I would struggle to see the justification in spending an extra $200m+. Why? For starters the park is hardly stuffed with the viaduct. You only have to walk an extra 50m and you are in a nice park. I havent noticed much in the way of noise myself, but if it is a problem this could be mitigated.

            But the main reason is what you could do with $200m. You could buy up lots all over the western fringe area for that and put in parks where no such amenity currently exists. This would surely be of greater benefit than making an existing nice park a little bit better.

            So even if you are of the opinion where it is worth spending nine figure sums on parks – there would be more effective ways of spending that money.

            As it stands currently we have the worst of both worlds. We still have a viaduct (and lets face it, an eight lane viaduct is not twice as bad as a four lane viaduct), and yet we spent all that money.

          • The extra cost was worked out to be only $10m because the $70m extra the tunnel would have cost was offset by $60m in savings from not upgrading the existing viaduct.

          • Swan

            Thats the extra cost from one tunnel to two, not from zero tunnels to two. $200m might be an overstatement – I hadn’t realised they were spending that much on viaduct rehab, but I suspect it would be north of $100m.

          • Swan

            Are you serious they are spending $60m on the viaduct? What are they going to do? I didn’t think they were doing any structural work.

          • Well bizarrely one of the justifications for the new work in any form was reported ‘concrete cancer’ on the existing structures. This is like the reports of life still in the existing Harbour Bridge…. they change constantly depending on who wants to enlist its health or otherwise in arguments for or against new projects.

            Also no issues with incline out of tunnels form under the Park, that’s another convenient argument for some rather than an actual problem.

  • arnie03

    I think this traffic situation will be permanent. Unless I’m missing something in these rather unclear maps, at peak time there is going to be an extra lane from Fanshaw St onto the motorway north. Look at Image 3.

    http://www.busway.co.nz/projects/victoria-park-tunnel/maps.html

    So that means 3 lanes from Fanshaw St and 3 lanes from the tunnel. There are definitely only 5 lanes around St Mary’s Bay.

  • Vicki

    Well, I just sat for over an hour in queues from Mt Wellington to the tunnel that were absolutely CRAWLING along and the minute we exited the tunnel things freed up. That seems to indicate to me that drivers are slowing down before the entrance to the tunnel. It’s exactly the same phenomenon as the majority of drivers slowing down and causing backlogs when they approach an offramp, instead of slowing down once they get on the offramp. Can we have some driver education? The tunnel is just a road – keep driving!

  • Doug

    It’s early March 2012, any news of the 3rd lane opening? I’m tired of sitting in traffic from Mt Wellington!

    • Peter

      We learned the answer to that in today’s “Ask Phoebe” NZ Herald column actually:

      When do they intend opening the third lane through the Victoria Park Tunnel? My trip time from Penrose to Bayswater has worsened since the opening of the tunnel. One would think that they would give this highest priority. Ian Cunningham, Bayswater.

      They (the New Zealand Transport Agency) are. The target date is March 12.

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