NZTA’s press release yesterday notes that the reopening of the Wellington Street onramp is just about ready to go:
Final work is underway to have the Wellington Street on-ramp in central Auckland ready to re-open for traffic joining the northbound lanes of State Highway 1 motorway next Monday morning (8 October).
The on-ramp has been closed since May 2010 and rebuilt by the NZ Transport Agency as part of the Victoria Park Tunnel project
The final programme of work includes lane marking to help on-ramp and motorway traffic merge safely just before the entrance to the Victoria Park Tunnel. Ramp signals – to help regulate the flow of traffic joining the motorway – are already in place, and a new pedestrian crossing has been installed at the entrance to the on-ramp.
The NZTA’s acting State highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Steve Mutton, says drivers will need to be alert and patient as on-ramp traffic joins the motorway.
“We expect that there will be delays and queuing, especially at peak times, as people adjust to the new driving conditions. With Wellington Street so close to the tunnel entrance, people using the motorway and the on-ramp will need to drive with care and patience to help ensure they merge safely,” Mr Mutton says.
To help people adjust to the new conditions, the NZTA will operate Wellington Street’s ramp signals from 8am to 8pm. Ramp signals normally operate automatically only when needed – if there is an incident on the motorway network, or motorway traffic is heavy.
“This is a safety measure we will use to help people. When drivers are used to the new layout, the ramp signals will only operate when needed as they do elsewhere on our network,” Mr Mutton says.
Mr Mutton reminds drivers of the pedestrian crossing located at the entrance to the on-ramp.
“The on-ramp will be busy and the crossing is there to provide safe access for the local community – those people who live there and children from the nearby Freemans Bay School.”
The NZTA and Auckland Transport agreed earlier this year to re-open motorway access at Welling ton street after a detailed investigation into the on-ramp’s future use, which involved community feedback and detailed analysis of traffic using the motorway and local roads.
Mr Mutton says re-opening Wellington Street means that drivers have the choice of using four central city on-ramps to join the motorway to access the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and the North Shore and beyond. The others are SH16 through Grafton Gully, Fanshawe Street and Curran Street.
Mr Mutton says the NZTA is advising them to select the on-ramp closest to them to help ensure that traffic joins the motorway as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
The re-opening of the Wellington Street on-ramp will coincide with another change for traffic joining the motorway from Fanshawe Street. From Monday, drivers using Beaumont Street in Wynyard Quarter will be allowed to turn right in to Fanshawe Street and access the motorway north through St Marys Bay. Access to Fanshawe Street from Halsey Street is not affected and remains the best access from the Wynyard Quarter.
I sense that the ramp was reopened with something of a grudging reluctance. The great irony of this whole saga is that if NZTA had gone through the proper process of being upfront around wanting to close the ramp as part of the Vic Park Tunnel project I think they might have had a much greater chance of winning the argument. Traffic management measures could have been put in place in other areas to help handle the diverted traffic, while the messaging around particularly encouraging people to use the Grafton Gully to Northern Motorway connection may have reduced traffic flows through the city. There would have been an interesting debate around the proposal’s merit.
Unfortunately, because NZTA sprung the decision to not reopen the ramp on everyone at the last moment, this debate wasn’t really possible. Everyone felt misled, particularly as NZTA never actually explained in sufficient detail why they had changed their mind around reopening the ramp. Given the poor process, it was inevitable that there would be a lot of angst from the community and this would lead to ongoing pressure for the ramp to be reopened.
The worry is that NZTA have now burned their bridges (so to speak) with the community and will struggle to close the Symonds Street onramp – a far more unnecessary ramp due to the close proximity of alternatives (Grafton Gully, Khyber Pass and Hobson Street) and where the benefits of closure (linking the proposed cycleway with Symonds Street, reducing traffic on Karangahape Road) are much greater. Let’s just hope they’ve learned to treat the public properly when making decisions like this and be up front about what they really want to do and why.