Daily traffic chaos is the norm on one of the city’s major arterial routes. This week, it got even worse.
About a week ago, almost all the overhead signs heading into Auckland on the northwestern motorway disappeared. Covered by what appeared to be thick green tape, anyone using State Highway 16 could no longer see which lane to use to exit at Ponsonby, or the North Shore, the city centre, the southern motorway or the port.
They were just … gone.
“I got very stressed out by this,” one colleague told me. So did others. Finally, on Monday, Auckland’s many motorists found out what was happening. The Newton road exit was being realigned as an exit-only lane, forcing traffic heading to the North Shore to move one lane over. Presumably, it’s also to stop motorists using the breakdown lane to access the Newton Road exit in peak traffic. (Disclaimer: I have done this. In Auckland, sometimes we forge our own roads).
The results of this design change, as documented by the Herald, were entirely predictable. “Traffic chaos,” screamed the headline. Traffic jams had backed all the way up to Westgate – 20km away – by 7.30am on Monday morning. In that story, the Automobile Association criticised Waka Kotahi for failing to notify commuters about the changes, a claim the agency denied. On Monday afternoon, a multi-car crash in that exact spot caused more chaos.
SH16 NEW LANE LAYOUT – 6:15AM
Eastbound lanes between St Lukes Rd and Newton Rd have been realigned, with the left lane now an exit-only lane to Newton Rd. Merge right for other destinations and take extra care this morning as motorists adjust to the new lane layout. ^TP pic.twitter.com/9bOcLxTKqc
— Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland (@WakaKotahiAkNth) March 26, 2023
Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s driven through that section of motorway this week remains utterly confused by it. Why was a seemingly fine stretch of motorway re-designated? As another colleague asked, didn’t it used to be that way back in the 90s? What is the point? Driving through it, it’s hard to see what the changes have done, aside from thoroughly confusing people.
In an apology published on its website late on Monday, Waka Kotahi revealed the change was part of the northwestern Bus Improvement project. The motorway was being shut down at night to complete the work, and it warned drivers to “follow the signs and drive with caution” until Thursday, when the work is due to be completed. That cleared up the confusion from these tweets on the issue, and whatever this image is trying to communicate…
These days, commuters using State Highway 16, in particular the 27km stretch from the CBD to Kumeu dubbed the northwestern motorway, are used to carnage like this. Traffic has maxed out the motorway, which can get desperately rammed even outside of peak travel times. Motorists face increasing delays while commuting in the mornings and evenings, and things only get worse when there are layout changes, crashes or upgrade work underway.
I’m a Te Atatū resident and I’ve missed concerts because of that motorway. I’ve lost count of the amount of jams I’ve sat in well after midnight. Often, nights are used for upgrade work, forcing motorists to endure a lengthy detour out through Avondale and New Lynn in the wee hours. Just last week, I tried to use SH16 to head home for a shower after a football match before Kurt Vile’s Auckland show. I didn’t make it. Instead I crawled into town on a motorway that forced all traffic into one lane and wore my stinky soccer gear to the gig, hoping no one got too close to me.
Everyone has their workarounds – starting and finishing work earlier or later, rat racing through the suburbs, or getting on their e-bikes. But those alternative transport options don’t work for everybody, so for a lot of people – parents, especially – cars are it. One thing that could help those living in West Auckland and beyond is improved access to public transport. Take it from someone who lives in Henderson and is forced to do that every day: “It’s a living hell.”
There are plans for dedicated bus lanes and interchanges from Westgate into the city. These are being built at stops along SH16. One in Te Atatū has already been built, then redeveloped after an outcry to include seats and shelters for commuters. The Spinoff understands it won’t be in use until the end of the year.
Will this help? Possibly. If there’s a dedicated bus lane running the entire length of State Highway 16, that’s likely to take the pressure off pinch points in Kumeu, the Brigham Creek roundabout, the Hobsonville onramp, Lincoln Road and Patiki Drive. Those that make the commute regularly know the moments to change lanes and risk a middle finger from another driver. It would be nice to have the option of avoiding that experience on an air conditioned, energy-efficient bus.
But Auckland’s western suburbs are growing at alarming rates. As Hayden Donnell pointed out in this excellent Metro story, the region has been forced to endure more than its fair share of population growth, with a unitary plan expansion allowing developers to bang up townhouses as fast as they can. Over the past decade, entirely new suburbs containing thousands of people have popped up in Huapai and Kumeu. It’s happening in Henderson, Royal Heights, Massey and Rānui. Te Atatū has, quite literally, been razed and rebuilt. Because of that population growth, adding a new footpath recently forced the community to its knees.
All those suburbs, and all those new residents, have to use the northwestern motorway. So too do the thousands of tradies and their vehicles building those townhouses. “The northwest is growing,” confirms Auckland Transport. “By 2046, it is expected to have 37,000 new houses, 11,000 new jobs and nearly triple the number of people travelling along the northwestern motorway.” Without decent public transport options, incentives to entice people onto bikes, or trains, or scooters, or hovercrafts, it’s hard to see how that stretch of road can handle triple what it already can’t handle now.
In a joint 2020 document released by Tātaki Auckland Unlimited and Auckland Council, the “relaxed vibe” of residents was promoted as one of the reasons cited as a reason to move to West Auckland. If we don’t seem quite as relaxed as usual right now, well, we’re sorry about that. We have our reasons. Blame it on the traffic.
Credit: Source link
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