Live: Commuter chaos on Auckland Harbour Bridge

Live: Commuter chaos on Auckland Harbour Bridge

Auckland commuters are in their fourth hour of morning rush as traffic remains down to a crawl across parts of the motorway network.

It’s still incredibly slow-going from the Takapuna Esmonde Rd on ramp, heading from the North Shore to the city across the damaged harbour bridge.

Long queues remain on the alternate northwestern ring route, with traffic backed up for kilometres waiting to connect to SH1at Spaghetti Junction.

Travel times on the main routes into central Auckland are still horrendous with expected journey times from the top of the northern motorway to the CBD still taking up to three times longer than normal.

And the nightmare commute hasn’t been helped by an earlier crash on a stretch of busy North Shore motorway, further adding to the headache motorists already faced on the congested roads.

Today’s never-ending peak comes after NZTA was forced to close half of the Auckland Harbour Bridge to make urgent repairs to a damaged strut after two truck crashes closed four lanes on Friday.

With motorists keen to avoid being caught up in the anticipated traffic jam, the morning peak started at sunrise around 6.30am, with traffic easily eclipsing rush hour levels an hour before usual.

This meant at 7am motorists faced an hour-long trip heading into Auckland’s CBD from Albany – a 20km trip – which would have taken just 20 minutes at the same time last week.

Today the AA said while the delays were heavy this morning they weren’t a patch on Friday’s carnage.

But traffic had stayed very heavy until well after the normal morning rush-hour. Even at 10.30am, it was taking nearly half an hour to get into the CBD from Albany.

While a lot of commuters were suffering, it could have been worse.

The AA said it was clear a lot of people had got the message and were changing the time they travelled, the route they usually took, or were working from home today.

Meanwhile, NZTA said delays after a crash on the Upper Harbour Highway – which connects the Northern Motorway and Northwestern Motorway – and which was causing further headaches for commuters had now eased.

SH18 UPPER HARBOUR MWY, EASTBOUND – 8:40AM
An earlier crash is clear of lanes after Brigham Creek Rd on-ramp but is still causing delays for eastbound #AklTraffic (northbound for WRR traffic) on #SH18 this morning. Allow extra time. ^TP pic.twitter.com/ZQWW0Gv2Zr

— Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland (@WakaKotahiAkNth) September 20, 2020

A commuter who travels regularly across from the North Shore to the city said the peak traffic congestion usually seen at 7.30am was an hour earlier today.

The queue to get on was the problem, he said. But once he got on the bridge, it was smooth sailing.

Ferry breakdown

A ferry breakdown compounded traffic woes in the city this morning.

Fullers sent out a travel alert at 7.35am alerting people about the Auckland to Half Moon Bay service being affected by a vessel breakdown.

The service was to be replaced by taxi service instead, the alert said.

The Half Moon Bay to Auckland service scheduled at 8.15am was to be replaced by a bus.

“The pickup location will be outside the Pier 1 in Auckland City and Half Moon Bay Marina in Half Moon Bay.
“We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.”

Travel times surge

To get from Silverdale, using the harbour bridge, it now takes 56 minutes. Usually, that trip takes 17 minutes.

A 24-minute drive from Albany to Manukau, via the bridge, is now taking up to an hour and five minutes according to the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency website this morning.

Anyone driving from Helensville into the city – even via the alternative route on State Highway 18 – can expect a drive of almost an hour and a half now. Usually, that trip would take 37 minutes.

And make sure your car is filled up if you are driving from Albany to the airport, as the usual 27-minute drive over the bridge is now taking about an hour.

Transport authorities warned motorists of long delays via the harbour bridge this morning – telling people to consider working from home.

With reduced lanes on the harbour bridge, SH1 is already very heavy citybound from Upper Harbour (Highway). If you can’t work from home, consider using (SH18/18/20).

Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking that serious questions had to be asked over Auckland’s planning – traffic and housing especially.

When I look at employers… and asking people to work from home… Auckland is in a mess.”

“Auckland is New Zealand’s only city of scale. You have to accept that. If you hurt the economy here, it will have a trickle-down effect. The conversation I should be having today is a second harbour crossing and looking for a solution.”

He said AT’s approach had been positive but it would still take weeks to fix.

Meanwhile, he was keen for the Government to move to an alert level for Auckland that featured a ‘1’ in it – even if it was ‘1 and a bit’, he said.

LISTEN LIVE TO NEWSTALK ZB AND TIMESAVER TRAFFIC

By 7am, the NZ Transport Agency said North Shore residents who usually work in the city should strongly consider working from home.

SH1 traffic was now “very heavy” citybound from Upper Harbour Highway and on SH18, 16, 20 is now heavy from Hobsonville to Waterview.

‘I learned my lesson’

In downtown Auckland workers were disembarking from a steady stream of buses that had travelled over from the North Shore saying journeys had taken far longer this morning even with priority lanes.

One man said his journey from Birkenhead, a suburb close to the harbour bridge, had taken 40 minutes.

He had caught an early bus to avoid the traffic chaos.

“It was certainly slower. I normally catch the 7.05am but got the 6.20am this morning. Even then it’s taken me 40 minutes to get over the bridge and that was only from Birkenhead.”

A commuter who travelled from the North Shore said traffic was banked up so badly along Glenfield Rd the bus driver turned his engine off.

“It was pretty bad,” said the man. “I got off my bus and walked 500m to catch another bus going down Onewa Rd.”

He said he didn’t catch an earlier bus into town today thinking using public transportation would somehow avoid the traffic woes.

“I thought I would be fine but I learned my lesson,” he said.

A woman who travelled by bus across the bridge said she was expecting a nightmare commute into town today but was left pleasantly surprised.

“I was fully braced for a terrible trip in but it was fantastic.”

She said aside from congestion at Onewa Rd at Birkenhead the bus had a free run into the city.

She added so much of today’s congestion may have been avoided if a bike and walking path spanning the harbour had been built five years ago.

Traffic builds early

By 5.30am, southbound traffic was already starting to slow on the northern side of the bridge, around the Onewa Rd on-ramp.

By 5.40am, motorway lanes from the North Shore heading towards the bridge were already popping up red and burgundy – indicating particularly slow-moving traffic in the area.

At 5.50am on Monday, southbound traffic was already starting to bank up on the northern side of the bridge, around the Onewa Rd on-ramp and back to the onramp from Devonport and Takapuna.

Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency is urging people to work from home if possible or use public transport if they have to travel into the city after high winds toppled a truck on Friday afternoon.

The resulting damage to a 22.7m steel strut closed several bridge lanes to assess the damage, causing gridlock and huge tailbacks across parts of the city.

Senior journey manager Neil Walker said the four lanes’ continued closure, for what is likely several weeks, would cause “significant disruption” to many commuters.

“If you must travel, avoid peak times in the morning and evening and allow extra time for your journey,” he said.

Just went over Auckland Harbour bridge southbound at 5:30.. building already.. of the two lanes available use the left one as RUBNERNECKERS holding up the right lane. Once over the crest its all back on again… #construction #harbourbridge#Auckland

— Stingray (@ScribblerNZ) September 20, 2020

“Heavy congestion and delays are expected on both sides of the bridge as well as other state highways and local roads.”

Motorists are encouraged to instead take the Western Ring Route, but this route will be especially busy as only half of the normal capacity can now travel across the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The bridge, surrounding state highways and local roads have been clogged this weekend after two trucks were blown over by “freak winds” gusting up to 127km/h, damaging the bridge’s superstructure.

“A temporary fix to reopen lanes may be possible in a few days but a permanent repair is weeks away,” Walker said.

“We’re working on both and working as quickly as we can.”

Although commuters are advised to use public transport where possible, buses on the North Shore will likely run late as they join lengthy queues to cross the bridge.

Shane Ellison, AT’s chief executive, urged commuters to give themselves plenty of time to get to work.

“We have plenty of available passenger capacity as we’ve only been sitting at around 50 per cent of normal pre-Covid levels recently,” he said.

“We will also be increasing bus frequency outside of peak hours,” Ellison said.

“Our joint operations centre is monitoring traffic 24/7 and adjusting things like traffic signals in real time to keep things flowing as best we can.”

And commuters hopping aboard a train will also need to allow plenty of time, with track speeds remaining at just half their normal pace and fewer services because of track maintenance.

Track speeds on Auckland’s trains were lowered from 80km/h to 40km/h in mid-August, as contractors work urgently to replace 100km of track in six months.

The frequency of commuter services has also been halved, meaning some trips may take 50 per cent longer than before the changes.

An Auckland Transport spokesman said the speed restrictions would remain in place this week, but an uptick in people working from home because of Covid-19 meant plenty of seats were available.

“Last week trains were about half full compared to normal,” he said.

Meanwhile buses will replace trains on the Southern Line between Newmarket and Penrose for a month from today, as urgent upgrades on the Auckland metro railway network continue.

It follows the four-week closure of the Eastern line between Otahuhu and Britomart, which will reopen to trains from today.

Extra seats available aboard AT buses

If possible, Auckland commuters should consider travelling during off-peak hours as the repair work continues, Auckland Transport says.

Based on typical passenger numbers, AT says that for Monday morning from 7am to 8.59am:

• Inbound the Northern Busway has 7000 seats available with normal service
• Inbound Onewa Rd has 2500 seats available with normal service

For Monday outbound, 4pm to 5.59pm:
• Northern Busway has 6500 seats available with normal service
• Onewa Rd has 3000 seats available with normal service

As these figures are for seats only, an extra 10 per cent of standing passengers could be added.

Ferries bump up capacity

Fullers360 will be using the largest vessels available on their services to allow for increased passengers, have extra crews members working and additional services on stand-by.

“All ferry services will be running as usual with plenty of passenger capacity available throughout the network,” a Fullers360 spokeswoman said.

“We’re doing what we can to maximise capacity, and to offer additional frequency where possible.”

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