There was an interesting media release from NZTA today about the Wellington Street onramp, which has stayed closed since the opening of the Victoria Park Tunnel on Monday last week.
The NZ Transport Agency has deferred a decision on re-opening Auckland’s Wellington Street on-ramp until after the Victoria Park Tunnel Project is completed next year. The on-ramp feeds central city traffic to the northbound lanes of State Highway 1.
The NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker, says while the on-ramp was due to re-open this month, the Agency has opted to continue the closure while only two of the Victoria Park tunnel’s three lanes are in operation.
“Opening the on-ramp now would create an extra lane feeding traffic into a tunnel that is currently not operating at its full capacity,” Mr Parker says. “We need to complete the motorway improvements in St Marys Bay before we can open that third lane with any benefit to drivers. It is not in the best interest of drivers to open the third lane until that work is finished.”
Mr Parker says it was necessary to open two tunnel lanes now so that the NZTA could close the northbound lanes on the Victoria Park flyover and prepare them for southbound traffic in the New Year. The tunnel’s third lane will be opened in March when construction to widen the motorway through St Marys Bay is finished, and the moveable lane barrier on the Auckland Harbour Bridge is extended to Fanshawe Street to improve peak hour traffic flows.
Considering the mayhem that has happened since the tunnel opened, I’m certainly not surprised that NZTA are in no hurry to reopen this onramp. But what’s perhaps more interesting are a few of the next paragraphs, which suggest that NZTA is keen on keeping the ramp closed permanently:
Mr Parker says that the NZTA and Auckland Transport will jointly review how the Wellington Street on-ramp should operate in the future.
“The on-ramp has been closed twice during the tunnel project. During these closures our monitoring has shown that traffic has flowed more freely through the central motorway junction,” he says.
“After next March, when drivers have adjusted to the third tunnel lane and new layout through St Marys Bay, we will have a clearer understanding of the benefits the Victoria Park Tunnel project delivers to the Auckland network, including CBD traffic patterns. We will undertake a six-month review of, the impacts and benefits and expect to announce a final decision about the on-ramp around the middle of next year. “
Mr Parker says the Agency understands that the on-ramp’s future will have an impact on the surrounding community and the NZTA and Auckland Transport are committed to keeping the community informed about the progress of that review as it develops.
I’m actually somewhat surprised it’s taken this long for the idea of closing Wellington Street onramp to come through. I’d shift the ramp to Newton Road – something like this alignment: The problem with reopening Wellington Street, even after there’s a third northbound lane open through the tunnel, is that the onramp will need to merge with the three northbound lanes at a fairly tricky point on the network – just after the SH16-SH1 ramp has joined with the motorway and just before the road ducks into a tunnel. With the mayhem of the last two weeks I think that adding a whole pile of traffic at this point of the network would be a bad idea.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens.