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Don’t drive north tomorrow

Tomorrow, December 27th, is the one day of the year we actually could do with the Puhoi-Wellsford holiday highway. Here’s what happened last year:

Bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched almost the length of the 7.5km toll road between Orewa and Puhoi for three hours from late yesterday morning.

Some hot and frustrated drivers and passengers got out of their cars to stretch their legs and cool off.

Angry motorists vented their frustration on Twitter.

Doug Hanna wrote that he had visitors from Auckland staying with him at Oakura, north of Whangarei: “Took 5 hours 40 to get here today. Took us 3.10 yesterday.”

Hamish Rouse was travelling in the opposite direction: “NZ Traffic anywhere out of Auckland is insane. Just came down from up North. Poor northbound travellers.”

The giant traffic jam was caused by two lanes of motorway traffic having to merge into one lane before the Johnstone’s Hill tunnel, and then merge again with vehicles from the coastal road on the one northbound lane beyond the toll road.

Although the Government has designated a $1.65 billion four-lane highway from Puhoi to Wellsford as one of seven “roads of national significance”, the first stage to Warkworth will not be completed until 2019 and the final stage not until 2022.

And here’s what happened in 2009:

Thousands of motorists spent hours stewing in traffic jams between Auckland’s Northern Gateway toll road and Warkworth yesterday.

Traffic started banking up north of Puhoi at about 10.30am, and three hours later was jammed for about 25km from Warkworth back to the Hillcrest Rd bridge over the southern end of the toll road at Orewa.

The worst problems were where lanes merged, whether at the end of passing lanes or at the northbound entry to the Johnstones Hill tunnel at the Puhoi end of the toll road.

It was not until 4pm that the Transport Agency reported a relatively free flow had been restored to the tunnel, which is confined to one northbound lane for safety reasons at the other end, where traffic from the alternative free coastal route through Orewa merges with State Highway 1.

Transport Agency northern highways manager Tommy Parker said State Highway 16 through Helensville remained free-flowing throughout yesterday as an alternative route to Wellsford, and drivers should always consider that option if travelling further north over the holiday period.

The agency regards December 27 as traditionally its second busiest day for traffic over the Christmas-New Year break after January 2 for the main road north from Auckland, with about 50 per cent more vehicles than the daily average, but Mr Parker said yesterday was even worse than usual.

“It was particularly bad this year – we have seen some quite large delays made worse by a lot of vehicles towing boats and caravans,” he said.

“We had expected the traffic would spread across a number of days, but people decided to travel on the same day.”

Mr Parker said traffic was unexpectedly light on Boxing Day, and he was at a loss to know why.

“Presumably people were all at the races or the sales.”

But after yesterday’s chaos, he was confident the traffic would also be “significantly lighter” today.

Despite extra difficulties observed by Herald staff where traffic ground to a standstill in attempted mergers at the end of passing lanes, Mr Parker said the agency was not considering temporarily closing the lanes to simplify flows.

He said that had not been done for years.

The agency had discontinued the practice because it believed some drivers became confused and erratic when confronted by cones blocking the lanes.

As well, the agency had no evidence that blocking the lanes improved flow.

Neither did he believe motorists had been short-changed by paying $2 to use the toll road, only to be forced to a slow grind little more than 2km along it, during the worst of yesterday’s congestion.

He said electronic signs south of the road warned drivers of queues ahead, giving them options of going to SH16 from the Silverdale interchange or using the Hibiscus Coast highway, which was also relatively free-flowing until it merged with SH1 near Puhoi.

We could go and spend close to $2 billion on solving a problem that happens one day a year – or we could spent a fraction of that money on a bypass of Warkworth and a safety upgrade along the Puhoi-Wellsford section of road: greatly improving things much quicker for users of this road 364 days a year.

I’ll bet there are further Herald articles on Wednesday describing the hours and hours people spent travelling north and how the Puhoi-Wellsford road is so incredibly necessary because of this horrific traffic jam. Or, people could just not drive north tomorrow and we could save well over a billion dollars.

21 comments to Don’t drive north tomorrow

  • Steve

    The other option if going further north than Warkworth is SH16 which although a little bit longer will be less time. Hell it may even be quicker timewise to go SH16 and south back from Wellsford if heading to Matakana etc.

  • Miggle

    We’re heading back south to Auckland tomorrow. I will try not to enjoy the spectacle too much.

  • Luke

    had a luagh when I saw this piece of PR – “Although the Government has designated a $1.65 billion four-lane highway from Puhoi to Wellsford as one of seven “roads of national significance”, the first stage to Warkworth will not be completed until 2019 and the final stage not until 2022.”

    I wonder when we will get updated costings and timings for the project, especially stage 2….
    According to tidbits heard about the place these costs and timetables are ridiculous, especially in regards to stage 2.

    • Watcher

      According to Tommy Parker (quoted in the 14th December Mahurangi Matters) NZTA are going to be presenting a “revised route” which is a complete route i.e. Puhoi to Wellsford. This is supposed to be happening “early in the New Year” – whatever that means! We can conjecture a lot of things from that statement – perhaps the project is no longer going to be split into two, perhaps NZTA have seen sense and are going further west to provide a true (and possibly cheaper) alternate route north etc. etc…We will only know when the NZTA deign to tell us.
      As for a bypass – its already happening. Auckland Council are in the process of organising the land corridor for what was called the Western Collector – now being called the Warkworth bypass. However, everyone needs to be aware that a bypass in Warkworth will NOT make a jot of difference to the problem of 2 lanes of traffic going down to 1 at Johnstone’s Hill tunnels.

      • Watcher, yes I agree that a Warkworth bypass won’t help the merge at the northern end of the tunnel. My point is that everything I have seen and heard suggests that merge is only a problem once a year. Today.

        All the other congestion problems along the route are caused by Warkworth bottlenecks.

        • Watcher

          True – the planned bypass comes off SH1 at Mckinney road (or thereabouts)and goes to the west of SH1 down through fields, a new housing estate (where the developer has paid for a bit of the road) and eventually comes out onto SH1 north of the Hill St intersection by Hudson road. Interestingly, this route crosses a number of local roads (Woodcocks and Falls) and to date we have seen no indication as to how these crossings are going to be handled. If they stick lights in, or roundabouts then I think you will just get the same sort of congestion – except that it will not be on SH1. The only sensible option would be to bridge over the roads – hopefully that is what they intend to do. BUT, this planned road is not a motorway – it has houses alongside it in some areas, in others an industrial estate. In other words, it will be a speed limited road but hopefully without traffic lights. This can be completed well before P2W even gets a spade in the ground – especially now that they look as if they are going out to consultation in the New Year on their revised complete Puhoi to Wellsford route. Anyone taking any bets as to how they are going to handle the Dome Valley?

        • I don’t think that would solve the problem at all. You need a proper bypass that peels off at Perry Road and doesn’t rejoin until around Kaipara Flats Road. Pretty much the Warkworth bypass section of the proposed motorway. You just don’t build anything north or south of that section.

          You would also need a link road to Matakana Road – probably coming off Goatley Road or perhaps a bit further south.

  • Or, do what I do and leave early, before 8am, or late, as the queues seem to clear up by 7:30pm.

  • Bryce

    Made the mistake and did that trip to Whangarei 20 years ago. Never again. Now we just go after Christmas lunch or early on boxing day. “Doing the same thing again and againg and expecting a different result” springs to mind :-)

  • Gary Young

    “Doing the same thing again and again….

    Yes indeed. Has anyone ever heard a rational explanation as to why drivers will set out on to a road at a time where it is a virtual certainty they will be stuck for hours going nowhere fast with an overheating car containing an overheating family?

    It baffles me beyond comprehension that people will do this year after year even though the time and place of these huge jams are well documented in newspaper reports and pictures.

    Humans are such odd creatures….

    • conan

      It wouldn’t be Christmas in NZ without hitting the malls on Boxing Day for ‘never to be repeated bargains’ and to sit in traffic jams on the 27th. NZTA ruined it for the Coromandel crowd by opening the Kopu bridge early.

  • NZ

    Once a year is a slight understatement!!! Maybe this is all that is reported in the media but I can say from personal experience that it happens many times.

    The Warkworth intersection is by far the largest cause of congestion heading north. Start with a by-pass and as a start much congestion will be resolved.

    Im not for spending $2b on a road but there are definite improvements needed and then spend the ballance on making sure we dont loose the rail line north by improving that infrastructure so that it can compete with road transport. I can only imagine how far $1b will go to make the northern rail route very good. Perhaps this may improve the road without spending to much money directly on it, rather making our existing networks more efficient.

    Just a thought.

    Merry Christmas and safe travels

  • Topcat

    So all that traffic that piles up where 2 lanes merge into one at Johnstones Hill is going to be transferred to north of Warkworth then eventually north of Wellsford- cost $2 Bill plus.

  • Bob Scott

    I had to travel to Glenfield on 27th and returned about 1.30pm. I queued for about 20 mins to get from the queue for the tunnel to the end of Windy Ridge, but I expected that! I think there were additional delays because of the tragic fatality in Wellsford.

    To give a bit more info to anyone interested in Puhoi to Wellsford – The announcement of the final route was to have been made at end of January. Apparently, there has to be a period of 2 months after an election before such announcements can be made. However, I have been told by NZTA that there will be further delays as they have had a number of staff changes, there is a new Project manager, they have to “brief” the new Minister and that there have been changes to the route due to geological reasons. I don’t think these are going to be major route changes. However, because they now have a new “preferred route” they have to go through the consultation process again. How much longer do the Ministry and NZTA think they can continue to torture those of us whose whole life has been turned upside down by this monster?

  • SteveC

    aha! routes of significance to National!

  • Geoff

    Steve, Auckland to Matakana is indeed faster via SH16 during holiday peak periods. The fastest route is SH16 to Waimauku, Peak Rd from Waimauku to Kaukapakapa, SH16 to West Coast Rd, then across West Coast Rd to Warkworth. It’s all sealed, and only takes about 90 minutes Auckland to Omaha.

  • For $2,000,000,000.00 you could split it 4,000,000 ways and give everyone in the country $500. Now ask everyone if they’d give back the $500 to build the road which would only be useful 1 day a year.

    That might make them see a bit straighter.

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