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.