This is probably going to end up being a fairly annual post but if you need to head north tomorrow, don’t be surprised if a few thousand of your fellow citizens think of doing the same and jam up the roads. Every single holiday season we seem to get exactly the same outcome. Its one of the few days a year that we actually could use the Puhoi to Wellsford road but its realistically its hardly worth spending $1.7 billion on. But as usual I expect we will stories in the Herald and probably other media outlets talking about some massive traffic jam and on queue there will be a discussion with a couple of drivers who lament that the road isn’t already under construction. We will also hear tales of how there were huge queues at the toll machines with people struggling to use them and then complaining again that they are paying to sit in the previously mentioned traffic jam.

Here is one of the reports from last year which unfortunately involved a pedestrian being hit although my guess is that wasn’t the only reason for the delays.

Meanwhile, a fatal accident at Wellsford about 9.30am triggered long waits on the Northern Gateway toll road which persisted until late afternoon. Even leaving Auckland proved tiresome as traffic crawled both ways from mid-morning.

The trip from Auckland to Wellsford, about 77km, usually takes about an hour. But traffic was yesterday backed up from the top of the Northern Motorway and stopped completely in places.

Cars were crawling 500m every 10 minutes at some stages.

And from 2010

Bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched almost the length of the 7.5km toll road between Orewa and Puhoi for three hours from late yesterday morning.

Some hot and frustrated drivers and passengers got out of their cars to stretch their legs and cool off.

Angry motorists vented their frustration on Twitter.

Doug Hanna wrote that he had visitors from Auckland staying with him at Oakura, north of Whangarei: “Took 5 hours 40 to get here today. Took us 3.10 yesterday.”

Hamish Rouse was travelling in the opposite direction: “NZ Traffic anywhere out of Auckland is insane. Just came down from up North. Poor northbound travellers.”

The giant traffic jam was caused by two lanes of motorway traffic having to merge into one lane before the Johnstone’s Hill tunnel, and then merge again with vehicles from the coastal road on the one northbound lane beyond the toll road.

Although the Government has designated a $1.65 billion four-lane highway from Puhoi to Wellsford as one of seven “roads of national significance”, the first stage to Warkworth will not be completed until 2019 and the final stage not until 2022.

And from 2009

Thousands of motorists spent hours stewing in traffic jams between Auckland’s Northern Gateway toll road and Warkworth yesterday.

Traffic started banking up north of Puhoi at about 10.30am, and three hours later was jammed for about 25km from Warkworth back to the Hillcrest Rd bridge over the southern end of the toll road at Orewa.

The worst problems were where lanes merged, whether at the end of passing lanes or at the northbound entry to the Johnstones Hill tunnel at the Puhoi end of the toll road.

It was not until 4pm that the Transport Agency reported a relatively free flow had been restored to the tunnel, which is confined to one northbound lane for safety reasons at the other end, where traffic from the alternative free coastal route through Orewa merges with State Highway 1.

Transport Agency northern highways manager Tommy Parker said State Highway 16 through Helensville remained free-flowing throughout yesterday as an alternative route to Wellsford, and drivers should always consider that option if travelling further north over the holiday period.

The agency regards December 27 as traditionally its second busiest day for traffic over the Christmas-New Year break after January 2 for the main road north from Auckland, with about 50 per cent more vehicles than the daily average, but Mr Parker said yesterday was even worse than usual.

“It was particularly bad this year – we have seen some quite large delays made worse by a lot of vehicles towing boats and caravans,” he said.

“We had expected the traffic would spread across a number of days, but people decided to travel on the same day.”

Mr Parker said traffic was unexpectedly light on Boxing Day, and he was at a loss to know why.

“Presumably people were all at the races or the sales.”

But after yesterday’s chaos, he was confident the traffic would also be “significantly lighter” today.

Despite extra difficulties observed by Herald staff where traffic ground to a standstill in attempted mergers at the end of passing lanes, Mr Parker said the agency was not considering temporarily closing the lanes to simplify flows.

He said that had not been done for years.

The agency had discontinued the practice because it believed some drivers became confused and erratic when confronted by cones blocking the lanes.

As well, the agency had no evidence that blocking the lanes improved flow.

Neither did he believe motorists had been short-changed by paying $2 to use the toll road, only to be forced to a slow grind little more than 2km along it, during the worst of yesterday’s congestion.

He said electronic signs south of the road warned drivers of queues ahead, giving them options of going to SH16 from the Silverdale interchange or using the Hibiscus Coast highway, which was also relatively free-flowing until it merged with SH1 near Puhoi.

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  1. Our friends are travelling north to meet us tomorrow but they won’t be leaving to after work, so there shouldn’t be much traffic hopefully.

    1. Exactly Kent – that is what NZA should be pushing for now, irrespective of what happens with the Holiday Highway.

      Demand responsive tolls that go up in busy periods is exactly the sort of tool NZTA needs.

      1. This idea strikes me as a classic example of rationalists’ naivety; not saying it’s a bad idea, but just a near impossible one to get past the populist reaction. Can you imagine the headlines?: Government agency price gouging on busiest day… you know how speed cameras, parking fines, and buslane tickets play in the popular press and that’s for people who break the law. Upping the price for Joe six-pack holiday makers would lead to a crazy reaction in the silly season. Imagine some poor NZTA goon with pens in his top pocket trying to explain that on the 6pm news…. haha.

        1. A pricing scheme wouldn’t have to be punitive. Give drivers credit for traveling at suggested times. A sort of Disneyland Fast Pass scheme. Now I’m being creative as well as rationale….

        2. Free on xmas for example…. yes with creativity [NZTA!] it could be sold convincingly as a traffic spreading tool alone. It could get really responsive, with realtime price movements even.

        3. Like you and Kent have observed I believe demand-responsive pricing can be sold to the public under the right circumstances. It’s about packaging up the change so that it’s clear what the benefits of it are.

          In this case the ability for demand-responsive pricing to avert the need for a $2 billion highway, thereby alleviating the pressure on the NLTF that has caused higher fuel taxes might be one way of getting Joe-public in support ;).

          Especially when you add up the votes from across the country …

  2. Increasing the toll will just cause people to go via Orewa, which is equally as congested as the toll road. If people are prepared to wait for hours to travel on the 27th an extra $3 or so won’t make much difference to travelling patterns.

        1. On a normal day yes but the time difference would be greater if people started going through Orewa. Wouldn’t the changes to the roads since the toll road was opened, to make it friendlier for pedestrians, have an effect on flows?

  3. How about encouraging people to go via SH16. Can easily turn off at Albany or at Silverdale along Kahikatea Flat Road. No need to detour all the way to Hellensville unless you come from West Auckland. Only 14km longer so would be worth it at this time of year.
    Of course half the traffic turns off at Warkworth anyway but if traffic for further north was encouraged to go this way then would makes things better for everyone, and save us $1 Billion!

    1. Good suggestion to use SH16 although there is a bit of a catch – a lot of, shall we say slower drivers, use SH16 and passing opportunities are few and far between. This in itself is not an issue but this can lead to drivers doing dumb stuff and the road is not very forgiving. It also has quite a few windy, hilly bits that cause problems for trailers, buses etc. Further upgrades of the road would be worthwhile.

      1. Unfortunately it dumps traffic into the main street south of the Wellsford shops and causes a back log on both SH16 and SH1 mainly due to people slowing through the shops, pulling in for coffee etc. It is always slow through Wellsford, slower than going through Warkworth on a normal day and worse, considering the reduced volume of traffic, on a holiday. The worst I’ve experienced was where the tail was just north of Wayby Valley Road and if memory serves me correctly it wasn’t Boxing Day. It doesn’t need a 4 lane highway but a 2 lane bypass would make a significant difference.

      2. I wonder whether a bypass would really kill off Wellsford though. It seems incredibly dependent on through traffic for its economic livelihood.

        1. It would actually make Wellsford a much nicer place to stop. I’ll see if I can find any data on how Waipu coped when the township was bypassed. It still feels busy and I suspect as many people stop now as they did before the bypass, due to parking being available and the lack of frustrated drivers.

  4. i don’t think increasing the toll will help much on its own. Most people will just be pushed to using the old route. This doesn’t really help as everyone has to remerge at Puhoi anyway. Maybe in conjunction with big signs at Albany and Silverdale suggesting people shoot over to SH16, as well as media advertising beforehand.
    Agree with above comments that maybe $10 million or so should be spent on SH16 to increase safety if it is to be pushed heavily.

  5. I think if somebody is dumb enough to take that highway that day at that time without looking for other options then he deserves it.
    In Europe people leaves for holidays at 4-5 in the morning not to be stuck in traffic. I think leaving from Auckland at 6:30 would be early enough.

  6. Proof positive that the Holiday Highway is not needed. At 9.30am on 27th December, John Key has already gone on holiday and there is NO TRAFFIC ON SH1 South of Warkworth!

    1. Looks fine except through Wellsford and just outside Warkworth. So the holiday highway is not even needed one day a year now?

        1. So you’re saying that spending billions on this project just for a slightly safer road is a good deal? That money couldn’t be better spent elsewhere?

          Driving is dangerous no matter how good the roads are and people die on them every week. I say spend 10% of the money on better enforcement (speed, drugs alcohol checks) and you’ll have a much safer road.

      1. Yes the government has pissed away the last two years on this stupid project instead of implementing Operation Lifesaver immediately.

        Sounds like the injuries were at the Wayby Valley intersection, which should be upgraded to a roundabout if NZTA weren’t too busy spending all their money on the holiday highway investigation, land purchase and design.

        1. Yes, something simple like a roundabout would work there and in many other intersections on SH1 (as has been done at the Marsden Point road intersection) but the govt and NZTA are too busy gold plating everything. I thought we were trying to save money?

        2. From memory they have budgeted $40m just for initial design work. How many roundabouts and how much median separation would that buy?

        3. I read $100 million had been set aside for planning and land purchase – a huge whack of money which could have enabled a lot of safety improvements to take place or it could have provided free public transport in Wellington for a whole year.

        4. Even more ridiculous is the fact that affected property owners are being told that there is no money available to purchase their properties – properties that have effectively been unsaleable for the past 2 years since the route was announced. There are about 50 properties affected on the Puhoi to Warkworth section, most of which will be valued close to $1m, so they are going to need at least $50m to secure the route. However, I heard just the other day that they are going to investigate the possibility in Feb of another change of route. I could write a book about the antics of NZTA and their “consultants”, bully boys and other hangers-on. Watch this space.

        5. I had a thought while driving along the Mercer stretch of the Waikato Expressway (where SH1 north and south lanes diverge) a couple of days ago, if we really must have 4 lanes between Puhoi and Warkworth, why not leave the current SH1 from Perry Road to Mahurangi West Road as the southbound lanes and just build another 2 lane, northbound road along a different designation? Much narrower width required, less safety engineering (no medians etc) and no maintenance of a little used road. Some link roads and intersections will be required for the locals to get about but these are cheap compared to motorway engineering.

  7. Well, today’s effort is actually very restrained. A whole five sentences, none of them containing anguished cries from motorists trapped in the queues, and only one hyperbolic adjective: “nightmare”.

    There’s another article about how two serious crashes have caused traffic chaos north of Auckland and north of Wellington, but that’s not really in the same category.

  8. Out of all yous travelers, what seems to be the best time to crack into the road up north? Or more to the point, when is it too late to leave (Akl) if you have a restless 2 year old who hates car travel?

    1. if you’re heading home, travelling at night can be brilliant, particularly if there’s a full moon and clear sky, the kids sleep and you can see oncoming traffic from miles away

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