NZTA have released their decision to reopen the Wellington Street onramp:
The NZTA is planning to re-open the on-ramp to all traffic in about six weeks after the completion of necessary work – including the installation of ramp signals and final pavement works – to ensure it is safe to use.
The recommendation to re-open was made after a detailed investigation by the NZTA, Auckland Transport, Opus Consultants and Beca Engineering of the potential effects on Auckland’s transport network from re-opening the on-ramp or keeping it closed.
The NZTA’s acting State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Steve Mutton, said the agency and Auckland Transport would be discussing the re-opening plans with local residents and other interested parties over the next few weeks.
Mr Mutton said the NZTA and AT received 710 submissions about the on-ramp: 72% of those submissions wanted it re-opened, 18% preferred it to stay closed to general traffic and 10% wanted a partial re-opening.
“This is a strong response reflecting a high level of community interest in the future of the Wellington Street on-ramp,” says Mr Mutton.
The recommendation to re-open the ramp is based on a transport assessment which indicates there is current capacity for vehicles to use Wellington Street without affecting the performance of the motorway in central Auckland, except for a period in the afternoon peak.
“These findings, together with the feedback we have received from the community, have lead us to support the recommendation from our working group for an opening at this time.” Mr Mutton says.
Mr Mutton adds, however, that the findings also warn Auckland’s growth and development will have an impact on the performance of the city’s network in the future.
“While there is room now on the motorway network to re-open Wellington Street, capacity is expected to reduce over time as the network has to accommodate more and more vehicles. The NZTA and Auckland Transport will be working together to monitor and manage the performance of the motorways and local roads, including the Wellington Street on-ramp,”
Mr Mutton said ramp signals will be used again at Wellington Street to control access to the motorway.
“Previously between seven and eight thousand vehicles used the on-ramp every day. The critical time is the weekday afternoon peak. The Vic Park tunnel improvements mean traffic is moving more quickly and ramp signalling will help ensure the motorway operates efficiently and safely for all drivers”.
The on-ramp has not been opened to general traffic since May 2011 when it was re-built as part of the Victoria Park Tunnel project. It provides additional access from central Auckland to the northbound lanes of the tunnel and the Auckland Harbour Bridge on State Highway 1.
The working group’s review was conducted over three months from May.
Feedback on the most positive effects of the on-ramp’s closure included less congestion and delays on the motorway, improved traffic flows on local roads near Wellington Street, and improved safety around local schools as well as for merging traffic on the motorway.
Negative effects identified by those who made submissions included delays to travel times; driver and resident frustration, “rat-running” through local streets, more heavy vehicles using local roads and an increased risk to safety locally due to drivers running red lights, making u-turns and driving too fast.
Mr Mutton thanked local communities for their patience during the on-ramp’s closure.
“We appreciate that the closure has had an impact on a large number of Aucklanders and we want to thank them for bearing with us during the tunnel construction period and for contributing to the review.
There’s quite a lot of further information available around the background to the decision here, including traffic assessments and a summary of the community consultation. I doubt the collation of all this information has come cheap.
Inevitable questions will be asked around why the ramp wasn’t just reopened as originally planned. It seems as though NZTA panicked when there were big traffic jams after the tunnel first opened with only two lanes, or thought that they could take advantage of general annoyance at the huge traffic jams when the tunnel first opened to close a ramp that they had long wished to close. Either way I think they’ve come out of this looking a bit silly.