Every day something goes wrong on our transport system somewhere. On our roads crashes and breakdowns are a daily occurrence while our rail network is not immune to faults and other issues creating delays. The impacts of these are often fairly localised but occasionally, if the incident occurs in just the wrong place and/or at the wrong time, it can become something much more serious.

Yesterday was one of those days and a large portion of the city was gridlocked after the harbour bridge was reduced to just a single lane citybound during the morning peak thanks to a crash.

A road-marking truck that flipped and burst into flames on Auckland Harbour Bridge has caused chaos across the motorway system this morning, with thousands of commuters left delayed by up to two hours.

The chaos has led to major congestion – now into the fifth hour – on the Northern Motorway and affected other motorways, particularly the Upper Harbour and Northwestern routes, as people tried to find alternative ways into the city.

Not even buses using the Northern Busway were immune as the crash occurred right after those buses have to merge with general traffic to cross the bridge.

This incident inevitably led some to suggest we wouldn’t have had this issue if we had another harbour crossing.

AUT University engineering Professor John Tookey said a second tunnel road crossing, as has already been mooted, would ensure Auckland would not be hit to the same extent as a result of a single incident.

“The fact of the matter is, if you have a tunnel somewhere else, then you’ve got traffic going through the tunnel ongoing uninterrupted during these incidents,” he said.

“The only way to manage this problem is to massively oversupply the capacity by having another motorway into the city, so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket when an accident occurs.”

I do agree with the suggestion of not having all our eggs in one basket but I’ll come back to that shortly. First though, it’s worth highlighting why an additional road crossing would not have helped.

The current thinking is for a road tunnel from somewhere around Akoranga all the way through to the Central Motorway Junction with the Harbour Bridge effectively becoming an off-ramp to access the city. As we’ve seen with every other roading project, over time it would encourage more people to drive. There are a number of issues with this but the one we’ll focus on is how it impacts this scenario.

As traffic backed up from the incident, it would quickly snake its way back along the motorway until it reached the point where the tunnel starts. At that point you end up with all the people who normally use the tunnel, and all those who normally use the bridge all trying to squeeze into the tunnel, creating new bottle neck, made worse as there will be a lot of people trying to get across lanes to access it.

We can be confident that this would happen just from looking at the impacts of the crash yesterday. As mentioned above, a lot of drivers tried to avoid the chaos by diverting along the Upper Harbour motorway in an attempt to get around the bridge. Only that motorway was simply unable to handle the volumes, especially after it joined SH16 causing it jam up too. I happened to be riding to work through the area at around 8am and due to the motorway being congested, drivers then also flooded onto local streets like Hobsonville Rd in an attempt to bypass the motorway congestion, jamming up those roads too. Through Upper Harbour and on the North Shore I noticed congestion in places I never have before – being on my bike I was probably one of the fastest things on the road.

This was just after 8am as I rode through Upper Harbour.

There is also the issue that because the tunnel bypasses the city, drivers would then need to find a way back again.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that with a tunnel in place that a crash wouldn’t happen by the entrance to the tunnel resulting in exactly the same outcome as we had today (but with more cars to deal with).

As for Tookey’s comments that we need to “massively oversupply the capacity by having another motorway into the city“. Is he suggesting we need a spare motorway sitting about just in case something goes wrong? Not to mention the huge cost needed to achieve that with road tunnels looking to be in the $8-10 billion range. It’s also worth remembering this post from earlier this year where the NZTA confirm that building a new road crossing has the worst outcome on traffic volumes and speeds.

What that report also confirms as the best option, to build a light rail only crossing, happens to fit in with the need not to have all our eggs in one basket. That’s because while light rail would not have lessened the congestion that followed the accident, it would have meant that that fewer people were suck in it. Providing a dedicated PT crossing and upgrading the busway to light rail would encourage more people to use public transport and so that would help too.

Finally, as mentioned at the start, it’s not just the existing roads that have resilience issues, our rail network does too – for example, remember when a train derailed inside Britomart crippling the entire network for days. It’s a good example of why our next rail network should be different from our current one.

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58 comments

  1. It’s worth pointing out that if we double-decked the bridge superstructure, as advocated by John Tamihere, then a vehicle fire on one deck would close the entire structure to all modes. This is why it’d be better to build a PT-only tunnel instead, with a cost in the same ballpark, less disruption and lower project risk.

    1. Let’s be honest, Tamihere’s bridge stunt was attention seeking/ build a wall with Mexico type of thing -retarded trash talk.

      Even if this turkey got elected it is never going to happen and he knows it!

      But he will sell our assets to Remmer’s well heeled, you can safely bet your Mike Hosking autographed Maserati on that one!

    2. That’s not necessarily correct.

      Tamihere’s plan includes two light rail tracks in each direction which could have been fully operational as soon as the fire on the vehicle deck was extinguished.

      1. I don’t think they would be operational as Tamihere’s plan didn’t include tracks connecting to the bridge at either end so there wouldn’t have been any trains connecting to them.

        1. Perhaps this site might benefit from a discussion article around Tamihere’s transport proposals, they certainly provide a lot of alternatives beyond what council has previously discussed publicly and all appear to be doable. It would radically change bus operations and PT capacity in general for a lot of Auckland.

          Tamihere is proposing 49km of new track to be completed in 9 years including:
          Spark Arena-Britomart-Westhaven-over the bridge and along the northern busway.
          Northern busway – Takapuna
          Panmure-Botany
          Mt Albert-Onehunga-Mangere-Airport-Wiri
          Onehunga-Westfield

          Refer page 7-10
          https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0191/2445/3440/files/Road_Rail_Policy_21082019_1.pdf?1561

        2. So more important to duplicate rapid transit in areas like East or North Auckland but than it is to connect anywhere in the West with rapid transit at all? Yea, thanks, pass.

        3. Thanks, I’ve seen his plans. They look like someone might have dreamed up on a blog ten years ago, without having to worry about costs or logistics.

          It’s hard to take him seriously when he is talking about getting rid of a revenue stream, while at the same time proposing something that will likely cost more than what is currently proposed. In addition to that he is proposing to leave part of the CRL incomplete to save costs. This would seriously hobble his proposed rail network.

          Anyone who plans to stop the CRL being a through route (removing a large chunk of its benefits) to save a few hundred million is not worth wasting energy on.

        4. Good call Anthony.

          One of the many problems Auckland faces is that even once the CRL opens, Auckland’s rail system only serves a limited area of Auckland on limited routes which do not include the North Shore, East Auckland or the Airport.

          One of the options being considered is to build one tram line to the airport for at least $6 billion, from the bottom of Queen Street all the way to the top of Queen Street, then all the way down Dominion Road causing extraordinary construction disruption as has happened in Sydney.

          Another option is to expand Auckland’s passenger rail network by 49 kilometres by building rail on many of the dedicated rail corridors already set aside and sitting there waiting for future rail, including to Botany, the North Shore and Mt Roskill – Mangere – Airport.

          Based on the more than 100 kilometres of new rail built in Perth in the last 30 years, the 49 kilometre expansion would cost around $6 billion.

          If the second option were to be implemented Auckland would have a true integrated Metro system providing high capacity connected rail passenger transport to most of Auckland, with provision for expansion. The system would allow public transport ridership to expand from the 100 million trips per year now, to 200 million plus trips per year by 2030, with the potential to accommodate 500 million trips per year with future expansion.

          There seems to be a lot of people who have articles posted on Greater Auckland who have qualifications and experience in transport. I would be helpful if one of them would take the trouble to write an assessment of the second option.

        5. “One of the options being considered is to build one tram line to the airport for at least $6 billion”

          Actually it’s two light rail lines for $6 billion, to the southwest and the northwest, covering (wait for it)… 44km of new double track railway and 26 new train stations.

          You’re option seems to basically be just describing what is already planned, for the same cost. So I guess that’s great.

        6. Nick, the latest costing is $6 billion just for the airport line, the other lines to Westgate is currently $4 billion without the same level of detail going into it.

          Both lines are over $10 billion.

          Of course much of the cost of the project is actually due to it mainly being a regentrification project with the CBD to Airport thing being the least important aspect.

        7. It’s $6b for both lines. You really need to do your homework properly if you are going to make claims to the contrary, especially on this site, rather than just repeat your trumpian fake news.

          Feel free to post a link or other evidence, this for example is the first hit on a very quick google search.

          “The procurement process also makes clear the Government is keen to build two new lines as soon as possible – one from the CBD to the airport and another from the CBD along the Northwest Motorway to Westgate and then Kumeu. The project would likely take around six years and cost around $6b in total.”

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/103750310/nz-super-fund-keen-to-build-and-operate-aucklands-light-rail

        8. Yes I am. A lot of people worked very hard for a long time to progress these projects, and this guy turns up to try and undo everything for political point scoring.

          Some of us actually care about doing right for this city, not just political leverage.

        9. “Some of us actually care about doing right for this city, not just political leverage.”

          Not too sure who you’re trying to direct that at.

        10. Can’t say I see much of an issue with someone suggesting other ideas.
          The light rail project does have a range of issues with it and comes at an extremely high cost, so looking at other ideas that may in fact be better doesn’t mean they’re not interested in what is best for the city.

      2. The issue with the Harbour Bridge and rail was always the gradient which is about 1:20 meaning it’s right on the extreme limitations of adhesion for steel wheels and definitely above the ideal in terms of gradient.

        So in reality it’s not practical!

  2. That incident shows what’s going to happen to SH16 once all those developments out West get slightly more population. SH1 at least has a busway, SH16 has absolutely no alternatives. And with more traffic the likelihood of an incident that causes further issues is even greater. Let’s see what opening of the 3rd lane between Lincoln rd and Westgate does to the traffic along the causeway, but it’s not going to be pretty, at this stage the roadworks and 2 lanes provide a nice dampener, giving drivers at Lincoln rd, Te Atatu Rd and further city-bound some breathing space. Once the bottleneck is removed – it will undoubtedly move citybound, onto the causeway.

  3. “AUT University engineering Professor John Tookey said a second tunnel road crossing, as has already been mooted, would ensure Auckland would not be hit to the same extent as a result of a single incident”

    This suggestion from the professor is ridiculous. Oversupply doesn’t make us immune from road crashes and other transport related delays, it only leads to further demand and causes more gridlock on our motorways and subsequently our city streets. More gridlock can also lead to a higher chance of another incident like this occurring some place else.

    I question how valuable a civil engineering degree from AUT actually is.

    1. AUT University has the word “university” twice in its name. So it must be twice as good as the others…

      Having said that, Prof Tookey’s expertise isn’t in transport planning or civil engineering, so I’m not sure why they are quoting him.

      1. They probably had a hard time finding anyone who knows what they are talking about that supported building a backup motorway tunnel to be kept spare just in case.

      2. Kind of like the Auckland Savings Bank Bank. When I was at primary school they made us do PAT Tests or Progressive Achievement Test Tests.
        People are impressed jargon and even more impressed by an acronym. Every scientist has to fill his or her papers up with impressive sounding bollocks because if they used simple language to explain things then people might not know how truly smart the scientist is.

    2. You have to wonder what he actually said however.

      He may have very well be saying these sort of things are inevitable and he was simply quoted out of context.

      Wouldn’t be the first time.

  4. Yesterday of course is not a one off, albeit worse than some, happens with monotonous regularity and all it takes is a break down and gridlock is guaranteed given our dependency on motorways. And what was the cost of productivity loss? Huge!

    A second crossing using rail, not road vehicles would ensure chaos like yesterday does not ensue to the point it did yesterday.

    Rail can and is high capacity unlike buses and is not dependant on roads.

    But our politicians who are THE people to make this possibly a reality don’t exist. They just don’t get it. Some even live in Auckland but are too dumb to realise this. And that of all the infuriating things yesterday tops the list.

  5. Quite worrying/embarrassing for AUT that their professors are still teaching climate damaging, 1970’s Auckland thinking when it comes to engineering. Who has over heard of the term oversupplying a motorway into a City?

    1. I wonder what his peers will do. This is classic ignorant linear thinking. It’s OK to give opinions outside your area of expertise – and he may have explained that to the journalist. But when the quotes used end up being both laughably misinformed and very damaging, in terms of the public’s understanding, a good university would make sure there’s a very robust discussion to follow. Universities are supposed to be places where all knowledge is brought together, so AUT has a job to do.

    2. And more importantly, AUT don’t even run a civil engineering or transport planning course. So this guy is basically just some random. Might as well get your GP to comment.

  6. Beach Haven residents were left behind by the ferry yesterday. Residents who saw the disruption and did the right thing by choosing an alternative thwarted by lack of capacity. Same capacity argument applies to all modes!

  7. The queues for SH16 started at Albany by about 7.30am, that is crawling to stationary with those drivers oblivious to the fact that SH16 gridlocks naturally all by itself by that time anyway without North Shore traffic chiming in.

    It was sad and desperate times yesterday.

    1. The trick is don’t go to the CBD. I drove from Greenhithe to Silverdale and everything was fine. Some idiot decided to put too much in one place and design a PT system that can only do one thing.

  8. It’s probably also worth saying that those that bike, walk or scoot to get around almost never get caught out by congestion or accidents. As do those that live close to where they work, play and shop. If we are serious about being resilient then the discussion would be a bit wider than whether we need reserve motorway capacity or a train network that is more reliable. Rather how we build our cities to reduce the need for transport and creating resilience through transport choice.

    1. There was no scooting or cycling around that one yesterday if you were on the North Shore. As someone else stated, our low capacity low frequency ferries were maxed out too.

      Of course if we had the Skypath or whatever its called nowadays across the bridge then it would be quite a different story. But sadly we can’t use Phil Twyford’s ghost crossing now can we?

      1. There absolutely was cycling around it yesterday, just like there is every day.

        Unfortunately as you note that because we still don’t have skypath it means riding around through Greenhithe, which rules it out for the vast majority.

        I sometimes wonder if we need more of these mega snarlups to get the message across that more roads aint solving the problem.

        Sooner or later the penny would drop for the masses and the pressure would ramp up to put rail in to the shore.

        1. It certainly does, and most importantly it should go to the urban centres rather than just stopping next to the motorway.

        2. David B – which urban centres? There’s a few on the shore and itd be pricey to attempt to zig zag over or under SH1 to reach them

        3. Birkenhead, Belmont, Glenfield, Browns Bay and others.. there’s urban centres all over Auckland (not just North) that are missing transit stations, and to me they are essential if we are to reduce our vehicle usage and create a usable and scalable public transport network.

    2. Yes, and planning to reduce travel demand in this way gives people more dignity in their transport choices. The GPS directly addresses this. But you can see the mindset that the politicians are up against. There are linear thinkers in many roles.

    3. The queues for Onewa Rd were back another kilometer from there usual start point yesterday, I noticed as a I passed traffic along Mokoia Rd. on my bike on the way to the Birkenhead ferry. And there were a lot more cars parked on Hinemoa St. by the wharf. And the evening sailing had 17 bikes and an e-scooter on board, a 2-wheeled record for any sailing I’ve been on.

    4. I did notice the unusual length of the queues on Monday morning. Ironically for me this would have been much more a pain if I would have been on a bicycle.

      By car I merely got delayed by a few minutes. I was in a queue for a while but I didn’t have to cross the bridge.

      Riding a bicycle would have been almost impossible, as I would have to constantly squeeze between parked cars and a slowly moving queue of cars.

  9. I caught the West Harbour ferry when I heard about the disruptions and was surprised that a normally full ferry had quite a bit of spare capacity!

  10. Why limit our inability to understand that individual vehicles are space and energy inefficient to just ruining our land and waterways, Joe? We can fill up the skies too…

  11. Any good engineer also needs a reasonable understanding of economics. I highly doubt the economics would stack up if the main purpose of a new bridge was to prevent a few people being late for work once a year.
    If cost was never a factor, engineering would be easy.

    1. Well almost as bad as the National Party decrieing that moving away from spending megabucks on RONS will create unemployed roading experts and they will decamp overseas.

  12. This post seems to ignore the fact that many, if not most, of the people crossing the harbour bridge aren’t wanting to go to the inner CBD.

    So although traffic would have backed up from the bridge, it would have been unlikely to have a significant impact on people using the tunnel other than a few more people using it.

    There is also the question as to how the bridge is re-purposed be there being 2nd crossing. People on buses for example may of had zero delay.

    The bigger issue I find when there is a crash on the motorway is the impact it has on the local road network. From many of the crashes I’ve seen on the southern motorway, where the crash may be cleared and the motorway flowing again within 30mins, the local road network can often take an additional 2-3 hours to start working again as it has become so dependent on the motorway flowing.

  13. The issue here the fire was before the main Bridge , What if it happened further up on the steel section of the Bridge ? then it would still be closed as the Engineers would have to check to see if it was structualy sound . And if they find it wasn’t what then ? .

    Then if it happened someone somewhere will then realise that Auckland does need a 2nd crossing be it for PT or a mixed version .

    1. I have a problem with the word ‘need’ being used without any evidence.
      Lets say the crash took the bridge out for 2 weeks. What would be the economic cost of that? And what is the likelihood of that happening? Without knowing those two variables you can’t possibly determine whether spending billions on an alternative is needed or just a luxury.
      Its kind of like a business having a complete replica office space in case one of them burns down. Not many businesses can justify the cost of that.

  14. Did I miss something? I caught my usual bus at 7.20 yesterday morning. It was held up by a traffic queue on Highbury By-pass for a minute or two, until it could slip up the left hand lane. We then carried on down Onewa Road Transit lane as usual and got into the city same as usual. Lunchtime, I read an article about gridlock.
    I presume there was a hold-up on the bridge approach when the incident happened until it was cleared, but by 7.30 there was no effect on Onewa Road services. That may have changed later, if approaches to Onewa Road tailed back further.
    So my experience was that simple bus priority provided all the resilience that was needed. Continuity of bus priority protection will give the bridge a substantial resilience capacity, even before any “needed” additional crossing facility for dedicated rapid transit space.

  15. While not wishing to enter the debate on the merits of AWHC, I do think that this statement is a bit disingenuous:
    ‘As traffic backed up from the incident, it would quickly snake its way back along the motorway until it reached the point where the tunnel starts’.
    As the accident started to back traffic up, driver aps and overhead signs could have alerted traffic to change to the tunnel.
    We are not in 1969.

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