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:cmj-1959The 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:cmj-cap 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.

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  1. It’s a real shame it had to go through Newtown, you can see from the map how close the housing was there (due to the rail/tramways and old zoning laws) which would be great if we still had it today, lots of villas etc…

    On the idea of covering the CMJ, an idea I had the other day was to box instead of building caps… You could build concrete boxes over the individual lanes and then infill everywhere with soil… If the motorway will not come to the tunnel, the tunnel must come to the motorway…

    That would free up essentially an entire suburb of fringe CBD land… Surely that would go a long way to paying for it all (and would have the advantage of no further expansions, not that there is any room)…

    Boston recently did this with their Big Dig and it has transformed the CBD…

  2. Jezza wasn’t sure about the Boston example (obviously heard of the Big Dig but not the redevelopment around it), however I have heard of similar examples in Seattle (Freeway Park) and obviously Federation Square in Melbourne which sits over the old Jolimont Railyard. In some ways you could even partially look at the Cake Tin as another example of better urban land use around large peices of transport infrustructure.

  3. You can’t put large buildings over such constructions, unfortunately. The foundations and weight of such buildings rule it out.

    There is a reason they are almost always kept as grassy parks. Having a grassy park, or even something more ‘dynamic’ like Melbourne’s Fed Square, could work quite nicely though.

  4. Well, I’m wrong then! All the same, you’d have to engineer a lot of strength in there, and would need some pretty substantial supports.

  5. @trickster, Boston ripped out their elevated motorways and simplified the alignments while sinking everything underground they had a lot of problems with people using sub-standard products causing leaks etc… When they had pulled out the expressways they did leave most of the footprint area as parks…

    I think putting all lanes in concrete boxes to tunnel wall standard would mean you could make them very strong and watertight… Then you accurately record their position, cover them in dirt and make sure any future developments foundations are inbetween the concrete boxes, there is heaps of room between some of those lanes in the interchange…

  6. I used to walk along the Symonds St bridge every day between my apartment and uni, more than once I’d stare out at the gap across to Queen St and wonder “how hard could it be to cover it over?”. You would need is the equivalent of six Queen St/Symonds St bridges side by side, perhaps less structure if the loading was not live traffic but dead weight buildings. I even toyed with the idea of suspending ‘underground’ parking for the buildings above on a couple of basement decks along the middle section where there is a lot of clearance.

    Jarbs, I would suggest on the K Rd side reconnecting South St to Ophir would be a logical border of the deck.

    Another option would be to build buildings on long piles above the lanes with a variety of access ramps and paths. It would be quite a dramatic place to live or work, but no good for those who suffer vertigo!

  7. The north side of K Rd looks tricky, there doesn’t seem to be a single place you could put down piles due to the mass of overlapping lanes. Any structure there would have to cover the whole lot in a single span, which would be enpensive.

  8. Like the idea of putting a park there, need to be seismically safe of course, and there may be issues of it being on an incline. Much of this is anything but flat land either side.

    I long advocated Wellington getting a proper inner city bypass cut and cover with a park over it – would have made a huge difference to Te Aro.

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