Work started last night on a temporary fix for the Harbour Bridge in the hopes of at least getting another two lanes open until a more permanent solution can be installed.

While there’s obviously plenty more work to go till things are back to normal, one thing that’s impressed me so far is how Waka Kotahi NZTA and Auckland Transport have responded.

By and large I think there’s been good communication via both media and social media from our transport agencies. This has included things such as videos explaining the damage and what they’re doing to fix it – some of these are on the NZTA’s youtube page. But it’s also what they’re doing to reduce the impacts.

The most notable change so far came on Monday with the addition of much needed bus priority through St Mary’s Bay thereby allowing northbound buses to skip the congestion on the motorway and on the Fanshawe St on-ramp. This has also resulted in the closure of the Curran St on-ramp. The change has seen buses crossing to the middle of Fanshawe St and to use the PM peak only extra onramp at Fanshawe St and onto a space inside the moveable barrier, in what they’re calling the ‘bull run’. How it’s working is shown below.


I guess you could call that a protected bus lane. It is a good example of the engineers thinking outside the box to deliver real benefits for a lot of people. The biggest disappointment with it is that it will only be temporary with it only expected to last till the bridge “is fully operational again“. It’s good to see our agencies being fast innovative with this. I hope they can take that energy to other areas of our transport system too.

Assuming normal occupancies, every person in car you can see climbing the bridge in the tweet above could fit in that small bus that’s exiting the bull run. If they were in a single double decker, that bus would still only be at about 50% capacity.

This new bus lane as well as the existing busway mean that buses are seeing only a few minutes of impact to overall travel times. This is great and helps give the public real options instead of just having to sit in traffic.

And it appears to already be helping do just that. Early indications are that bus usage on Monday was up about 5% on Monday last week. That’s not as big as I was expected but with disruption like this it often takes people a few days to change habits. It’s also nothing on ferries though which were up about 85% compared to the Monday the week before with Birkenhead ferries seeing the largest change

Yesterday, Auckland passenger numbers on ferries increased by 85% compared to last Monday. The Bayswater service was up 121%, Birkenhead up 284%, Devonport up 106%, Downtown up 93%, and Hobsonville up 38%.

AT and NZTA also say that bus usage on the North Shore yesterday morning was tracking about 10-15% up on Monday – although we have to be a bit careful with that figure as it’s not uncommon for a Tuesday to see 10% more usage than a Monday.

Unfortunately the media seem to have focused almost exclusively on the delays to general traffic, some going so far as to blame the bus lane for it and not that there are too many cars on the roads. Some of the reporting and complaints were that there were “no signs anywhere” but I’ve also seen reports that there were big signs warning of the closure that drivers were simply ignoring. Regardless, the NZTA say they’ve improved the signage. The reality is these things do sometimes take time to get right but the positive is that AT and the NZTA have been doing that.

Meanwhile the disruption has seen a big reduction in private vehicle travel over the bridge with the NZTA reporting:

Traffic data shows southbound traffic across the bridge between 10:00AM and 10:00AM was 16,500 vehicles or 60% less than at the same time last year. Northbound traffic was down 39% (38% yesterday).

On Upper Harbour Drive (SH18) southbound traffic was up 39% and northbound was up 9%.

It’s also interesting to compare the response we’ve seen with the Harbour Bridge to the other area of our transport system currently experiencing significant disruption, resulting in reduced capacity and travel times, the rail network.

With the rail network disruption the communication has been near non-existent and with weeks-long closures announced with only a few days notice. Then there’s the issue of progress. Kiwirail say they need to replace about 100km of track across the network. By now I assume they know approximately where that is so why not share that with the public, perhaps with a map showing how much there is to do and how much has been completed. Something that allows the public to see how much progress they’re making and how much more there is to do.

Auckland Transport are not doing much better, for example they’ve been running some unscheduled services to bring some timetables back up to 10-minute frequencies but without telling anyone. They’ve now formalised that with a new Western Line timetable from today through to mid-October and this also changes the times trains arrive at stations but again there’s been no communication of the change.

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24 comments

  1. The bus lane is being returned to the left shoulder today meaning that the bull run can be used for pedestrians and cyclists as described in this letter published in the NZ Herald 23/9/2020.

    Walk and Cycle
    For the month or more before the Auckland Harbour Bridge is permanently repaired cross harbour travel capacity can be inexpensively and helpfully increased by using 1 to 2 of the 4 central bridge lanes, as they will not all be used for vehicle traffic, to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Serendipitously the existing fixed and moveable barriers and access points allow cyclists and pedestrians to safely use these lanes while maintaining at least 4 lanes of traffic in the peak travel direction and 2 in the counter-peak direction.

    It is about 1,600 metres from the end of Fanshawe Street to the south bridgehead via the right-hand north-bound motorway shoulder which is protected by a movable barrier along that section.

    From the north bridgehead it is around 800 metres, protected on both sides by fixed or moveable barriers or a wide flush median that accommodates temporary barriers, to the Sulphur Point motorway underpass that is reached from the middle of the motorway by the old toll booth accessways. The 1.2 km over the bridge itself is as protected as the approaches.

      1. As discussed on Radio New Zealand at 6:08am 23/9/2020, all repairs will be done between dusk and dawn so that the bridge steel is unaffected by the heat of the sun.

        From http://www.rnz.co.nz: “An associate professor of civil engineering at Auckland University, Charles Clifton, says the part-fix of the bridge is similar to a spare tyre on a car – allowing it to work but not at full capacity. He told RNZ reporter Jordan Bond it could only be done in the dark.”

  2. Matt, you need to start using a spellchecker. You consistently have multiple spelling and grammatical mistakes in your articles and today you have one in your URL.

      1. Now you bring it up, I scanned this website with the Blacklight tool and it’s sending our data to doubleclick.net, google-analytics.com, google.com, and googleapis.com.

        Just because you don’t pay money doesn’t mean that you’re getting something for free.

  3. My observation on a slow ride along the Eastern line is there is still more to do. There is a real mixture of wooden and concrete sleepers maybe they can’t make up there mind on which to use. One place they had replaced every fourth wooden sleeper with a concrete one.
    Quay street has a slightly more finished look and the paving in front of the station is coming on as is the bus stops for the Northern buses.
    I counted eight ships in port including two car carriers so I would think the economy is trucking along in spite of the whining we have coming from the business sector. Last week I was in Hawkes Bay and took some time to observe what was happening at their port. Large amounts of trucks and trains coming and going. Logs, containers and wood products. My impression was the port needs to redo there rail sidings with a view to turning the wagons around more quickly. But the busiest I have seen it. No trains to Wairoa since they were stopped before lockdown.

    1. “One place they had replaced every fourth wooden sleeper with a concrete one.”

      Spot resleepering is an established practice in NZ. It’s fine as long as the 3 wooden ones have some life left.

  4. Good job? To be honest I think this whole incident shows how woefully underprepared nzta are to deal with a crisis on the bridge. People travelling through Auckland and not commuting have little option to take public transport. How Auckland transport could not have storage of replacement parts of the bridge built and ready to go in case of an event like this highlights to me there complete incompetence. Another harbour crossing is needed ASAP but nzta and Auckland council needs to get it together and be prepared if something like this happens again noting that we are lucky it’s not happened before. Nzta advising people to work from home is further economic pain to those with business in the CBD due to reduction in patronage of offices due to covid. It’s very sad. I’m not impressed by Auckland transport nzta or Auckland council. They should be better prepared.

    1. For those travelling through Auckland there is an alternative motorway route, the Western ring route, if that’s not considered being prepared then I don’t know what is.

      1. plus each clip on and the central section being essentially independent bridges that happen to sit on the same piers. The resiliency is in the photos, half the bridge still operating fine despite a main support being taken out. This slightly highlights the need for another system independent from cars and their traffic, eg rail crossing, or dedicated bridge lanes for busses / light rail

    2. Better prepared? Each piece (per side) is different to each other – You’re proposing keeping half a bridge sitting in some large warehouse for an event that happens once every 60 years? An event that was very peculiar in its manifestation?

      Great idea. Especially if you’re the one paying for it. Let’s keep that idea going, lets have 50% spares for all of our transport methods. Would certainly solve the rail issues we’ve been having.

      Also, and this is a low shot I know, talk to me about the third harbour crossing? Unless it was pubic transport only, the reports clearly advise of even worse traffic congestion and environmental impact (beyond the impact of constructing and operating the crossing itself).

      Also, which camp are you in: The one passing through Auckland, or the one working in the CBD?

      Do you feel better now that you’ve jerked your knee and blown some steam?

      1. The clip-on’s were built in 1965 with a life expectancy of 50 years. They have been plagued with fatigue problems. At one point a risk of complete catastrophic collapse was identified. Repairs and strengthening work started in about 2009 has bought between 20 and 40 years of additional life if trucks are banned from the northbound clip-on at some point. The reason is that the southbound lanes carry less heavy freight and so have suffered less fatigue. So between 9 and 29 years we will need another harbor crossing. The second harbor crossing isn’t to supplement the bridge but to replace it due to it coming to the end of it’s life. Doing this earlier rather than later would allow the existing harbor bridge to be repurposed for lighter duty which would extend its new life. The original harbor bridge concept was 6 lanes, with rail lines, and pedestrian/cycle paths, but was pared back due to costs. The rational of having the main highway North running practically right through the CBD of our largest city is something else.

        1. Firstly, we’ve got two harbour crossing already.

          The AHB main structure has an indefinite service life and is a structure that is much easier to service than some iconic bridges such as the Golden Gate. Once there is a PT-only crossing, the clipons can be removed.

          The environmental impact from a tunnel or second bridge is huge. You can reduce the impact of the tunnel by making it trains only (less tunneling, less ventilation, etc). If it’s a traffic tunnel, where is it going to exit at the city end? Have you seen how big the exhaust stacks would be? It still wouldn’t be suitable for all trucks without either a reduction in safety standards or a massive overinvestment, as DG and tunnels in this country only seems to mix well for trains.

          The idea of a motorway running through the city center is pretty absurd, but it’s there and that’s not going to change any time soon. Would be best to either force trucks over a certain size out west, or get used to the idea of trucks on the bridge with the skypath (or whatever the name of the month is) running alongside – Not an ideal option.

          The issue isn’t the current bridge, it’s how it’s used. Too many SOVs that aren’t tradies.

          I’m curious how you would propose re-purposing the existing bridge and how would you propose the third crossing to be used…

        2. “The original harbor bridge concept was 6 lanes, with rail lines, and pedestrian/cycle paths, but was pared back due to costs.”

          Not quite true, the original harbour bridge was 6 lanes with a 12 foot pedestrian path on each side and an intersection at Shelley Beach Road. It was first paired back to five lanes without the footpaths to get it into the budget, then the fifth tidal lane was dropped in favour of the Shelly Beach flyover to remove the intersection.

          Rail lines were never part of the design, as the bridge would have needed to be three times as long to manage the grade.

          The harbour bridge was never designed to be the main highway north, that was SH16, which is why it was built so early, and the intended to extend it north via Riverhead to Albany Hill.

          The bridge was designed to be the equivalent of Great North and Great South Road, primarily for car access to the centre of the city from new northern suburbs. However, they had concerns that the harbour bridge wouldn’t achieve it’s projected toll revenue, and the californian consultants bright idea was to change the highway plan to push SH1 through town and over the bridge. So that not only forced all the regional traffic through the city centre, it also required the city fringe to be demolished so that spaghetti junction could be built.

  5. What a kit set complete second bridge stored away for a one in 60 year event? The Auckland Harbour Bridge is not a Bailey Bridge assembled from a limited range of standard bits.

      1. +1 People really complaining there isn’t redundancy or a second crossing showing pictures with half the bridge still going strong. I think this is an absolute win for the bridge’s built in redundancy. And now PT hardly delayed.

  6. Yep, somehow we can come up with these solutions in days yet it is not possible to have trains running at full speed on the repaired section of the Eastern Line.

    There appears to be complete disdain for rail users at the moment.

  7. “The most notable change so far came on Monday with the addition of much needed bus priority through St Mary’s Bay thereby allowing northbound buses to skip the congestion on the motorway and on the Fanshawe St on-ramp.”

    Yes NZTA – very clever and to be commended.

    By contrast, AT woeful.

    Halsey St – right outside AT’s windows – is a complete and unmitigated disaster. (Halsey St is generally poor with the bus lane often being congested with cars.) Yesterday it was clogged from one end to the other with the consequence that buses came to a complete standstill. It is little point having them flowing well past St Marys Bay if they sit for 30 minutes in Halsey St. That was the second day that I experienced this, but yesterday was worse.

    Sadly this confirms that AT’s handling of much of PT matters is just inept.

    On a positive note, AT are yet to destroy Takapuna’s bus lane that has provided resilience for travel from Milford and Takapuna. It’s part of the plan though.

  8. Somebody in NZ heard raise a good point about double decker bus only allowed to use the left lane.

    Imagine if the gust flip the double decker bus. The bus will flip into the sea. There will be serious causalities.

    However what’s ridiculous is AT actually discourage bus driver from changing into middle lanes even when the bridge is windy.

    It is just another accident waiting to happen.

  9. Yes great this temporary bus lane *was*, cute diagrams. I wonder if not many switched to buses as they expected to be still jammed in traffic somewhat anyway. Also mask wearing & not so hot connections to the busway for some users etc etc. I’m “disappointed” the bridge temp repair was done so quick so that we didn’t really get to see how traffic & PT would adjust to this for a few more days. Fast runs south into the city I see on Twitter certainly around 8am after the extra 3rd lane was opened at 7am as people didn’t account for it and stayed home delayed or went super early from what I can gather.
    Tomorrow morning will be interesting as people learn of the opening and hear about the fast trips this morning later in the peak.
    Also with the Curran St on-ramp reopened how much that is messing with the buses leaving north and using the smaller permanent left bus lane. Google still showing it closed at least may help…

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