I must admit that as a kid I thought Auckland’s Central Motorway Junction (known locally as ‘spaghetti junction’) was one of the coolest things ever. There were so many ramps going this way, that way and the whole thing appeared to me as one of the great engineering feats that Auckland had achieved. I guess in some ways it certainly is a feat to thread so many lanes and connections through a relatively tight area.
However, in more recent times I have started to recognise some of the down-sides of spaghetti junction, and in particular both the enormous amount of otherwise valuable central city land it takes up as well as the severing effect it has cutting the CBD off from the inner suburbs around it. In fact, if you look at Auckland’s CBD it is almost entirely circled by either the harbour or a motorway. While ‘constraining the CBD’ within that area might be seen by some as a good thing – avoiding the spread of high-rise buildings and the like – I really do that that the negatives outweigh the positives. This becomes most obvious when looking at a few aerial photos of the place, as you begin to realise how much land Auckland has dedicated to its motorways.
Of course it wasn’t always like this. Back in the 1950s the area which now makes up the Central Motorway Junction was an inner-city suburb known as Newton. It certainly wasn’t the richest part of town, but at that point neither was Ponsonby – and look what’s happened there over the past 20-30 years! There are a couple of remnants of what this area might have been like, around Arch Hill and in the pocket of Kingsland/Eden Terrace between Ian McKinnon Drive and the Northwest Motorway. But back in 1959 it looked like this:The red lines show where today’s motorways and ramps are – and give a good indication of how the motorways have really ripped the heart out of this section of Auckland.
Of course it’s too late to ever do anything about this now, as even in recent years a huge amount of money has been spent on upgrading the Central Motorway Junction – and is set to continue with the Victoria Park Tunnel and Newmarket Viaduct replacement projects. However, I do wonder whether there is yet some hope for the area, and whether in a couple of key places we could ‘reconnect’ Auckland’s CBD with its surrounding inner suburbs.
The way to do this could be by building a large ‘cap’ over parts of the motorway that generally sit below the surrounding land – and then to redevelop on top of that cap. Now I know that this would be enormously expensive and an enormously complicated engineering project, but it would create new inner-city land that could be redeveloped into high-rise apartment or office buildings. Surely at some point it might be worth it?
There are a few places around the CMJ where I think such an idea might be possible, and they’re detailed in the map below. The most obvious is the area furtherest to the right, between Upper Queen Street and Symonds Street. The motorway is very wide through here, but generally it sits well below the land around it and so therefore a level cap could be built without having to lower the existing motorway or anything else like that. Anyway, here’s the map: It may not be economically viable at the moment, but at some point in the future one would imagine that the land would become valuable enough to this to make sense. It would also be nice to see areas like Newton reconnected with the CBD.