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.