After seventy years, Auckland’s motorway network is finally finished.

In July 1953 the first section of motorway in Auckland was opened between Ellerslie-Panmure Highway and Mt Wellington Highway. The final stage opens to traffic this week with the completion of the motorway part of the Northern Corridor Improvements project.

Aucklanders are one step closer to a more resilient state highway network as the direct link from State Highway 1 (SH1) to State Highway 18 (SH18) is set to open early next week.

One of the final stages of the Northern Corridor Improvements project, the two-kilometre link between SH1 and SH18, including an underpass also officially completes the Western Ring Route, providing a seamless and robust alternative to SH1.

“Reliable journey times for people and freight will be a bi-product of the work that has taken place across multiple years and projects to improve the resilience and performance of Auckland’s transport network, protecting our infrastructure against the elements and providing a choice for people who need to get around Auckland” says Stephen Collett, Regional Manager Transport Services Waka Kotahi.

“The direct motorway link from SH18 to SH1 which was opened last month has already established a seamless transition for motorists travelling from the west to the north and the opening of this underpass will do the same in the other direction.”

The opening of the underpass connecting SH1 to SH18 marks the completion of the Western Ring Route

The modern motorway network is thankfully quite different from what was proposed in the 1950’s and 60’s. Back then the plans also included proposals like the Eastern Motorway, a motorway down Dominion Rd, a Henderson motorway, a bridge from Point Chev to Kauri Point then up to around Constellation Dr. Interestingly, the SH18 connection that has just been completed was never on these old plans.

Some of those old plans even called for fully ringing the city centre in motorways, including an elevated motorway down Quay and Fanshawe streets.

The completion of the SH1-18 link is a big achievement and it’s somewhat fitting that the project that delivered this final section of motorway in Auckland was perhaps also the most multi-modal project we’ve seen. Last year it delivered the Northern Busway extension from Constellation Station through to Albany Station and parallel walking and cycling paths are also due to open soon.

If all of our previous motorway projects had also delivered first-class public transport and active mode infrastructure at the same time, our city would have a lot more options in how we all get around. Notably, the need for alternatives was even called out by the original planners of our motorway system.

While there are some other motorway projects around, such as the Puhoi to Warkworth project which is due for completion later this year, this should really be the last motorway project within the urban area and it is critical that the focus shifts to how we deliver the missing public transport and active modes. Only by building complete networks will we truly give people viable, congestion free options.

Given we’ve only really been working on the rapid transit system for the last 15-20 years, let’s hope it doesn’t take another 50 to complete it.

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  1. There is still a plan to have a SH18 to SH1 link southbound. The just completed works are apparently future proofed to allow for this – although I can’t see how.

    WK don’t want to complete this until the second Waitemata crossing is in place because they don’t want to slow the Northern motorway down preferring to have the local roads clogged with traffic.

    1. The Western Ring road isn’t actually a ring until they build the missing two ramps. The delay isn’t based on economics or common sense but on a WK idea that they do long distance trips.

      1. Who exactly would the southbound/westbound connection to the Northern motorway serve? Surely any traffic would be better served taking the western motorway into the city? And if the destination is the North Shore then leaving the motorway at constellation seems to be perfectly reasonable

        1. Not everyone wants to go into the CBT. How about someone wanting to go from say Hobsonville to Takapuna, Northcote, or similar.
          You may think that its perfectly reasonable to leave the motorway at Constellation. Pray tell me whats reasonable about having to travel through suburban roads when a perfectly good SH1 / motorway goes to the same destination.

    2. So far as im aware, the new connection is meant to be an alternative north south route. Not an east west connection. So a southbound connection from the northwestern to the northern is actually not helpful and im not sure what connections its actually meant to serve either. Who transits from Northwest to the city center through the North Shore anyway?

    3. Yea before they build the south bound ramps they have to add an extra lane southbound from constellation to northcote including widening a couple bridges, and further I think the 2nd harbour crossing will be prioritised.

      1. they need to widen this section of motorway from constellation to tristam to 3 lanes regardless of the southern ramps as this is a major constriction point. The congestion through this pinch point from 3-2-3 is horriffic and has not been improved by the project at all. Kinda defeats the whole purpose as the southbound traffic gets backed up. Not a huge amount of traffic is heading westbound from the nothern.

        1. I think they rather the congestion there than further down the motorway. However I agree 3 lanes should be the minimum.

    1. Getting our public transport network working roughly as well as it did back in 2019 would also be nice.

      Until that happens (and also until building bike lanes on streets stops being as horribly taboo as it is now), adding congestion pricing amounts to pure cynicism.

      1. No, it doesn’t. Everyone pays the congestion charge price now anyway. Just in the form of time spent waiting in a queue like we’re all waiting in a soviet breadline.

        1. Do you think there are a lot of people in those lines who currently do not need to travel at rush hour?

          As far as I understand such schemes overseas work partially because people are able to switch to alternative modes of transport. If we introduce congestion charging here, we should at least stop being so openly hostile to people switching modes.

    2. Congestion pricing makes NZ politicians weak at the knees!
      A map of Wellington shows an ideal way to do it there, but 10 years later than it would have relieved a lot of congestion woes there LGWM ( Let’s get Wellington Moving) has spent millions of yet more reports, there is virtually nothing to see diferrant when visiting the capital.
      Could it take 5, 10 or 20 years to get it implemented in Auckland?

        1. Has more traffic than either Transmission Gully or the Waikato Expressway and more than Puhoi-Warkworth will.

          Should’ve been built as the Westgate-Brigham section was nearing completion.
          That said what a clusterF… it looks like a good 500m section of that motorway will simply be destroyed with the new extension following a different alignment. That’s a good $100m + down the drain right there.

        2. If twe’re going to build a big bypass, at least take the opportunity to produce a masterplan for Kumeū and Hupai, inculding passive provision for rapid transit and a de-tuning of Main Road. There’s a huge opportunity for it to be a better main street when it no longer has a strategic traffic movement function.

          Unfortunately, I have never seen a former state highway in NZ be de-tuned following a bypass (e.g. SH1 Huntly, SH1 Porirua) but there has to be a first time for everything.

        3. @Paradise_City Upper Harbour Drive used to be SH18 before the Upper Harbour Motorway was built so I guess that would count as a de-tuning – speed limit reduced to 60 and bike lanes installed.

          Manukau Station Road (formerly Wiri Station Road) through Manukau City Centre used to be SH20 before the SH1-SH20 link was built and now has protected bike lanes and bus lanes and a major transport hub (Manukau Station).

          Agree with your Huntly and Porirua examples, there is opportunities there for placemaking by redesigning the old SH1.

        4. I guess Orewa has been detuned since the SH1 bypass, a number of crossing and slow speeds in the township now. Bit of a streetscape makeover in fact.

        5. There’s a newly upgraded heavy rail line running right through the middle of Kumeu, Huapai, Waimauku, and Helensville.
          Yet the powers that be have an irrational myopic mindset that you can’t use it as it would ruin the business case for a some time in the nevernever light rail or a still a long way off busway.
          The rail is there, the trains are there (ex-Pukekohe DMUs). They have a range of totally BS excuses (no it doesn’t need double tracking anytime soon – save possibly a small cheap passing loop). Also LR/BRT does nothing for Waimauku/Helensville etc if it is ever even built.

  2. “basic importance”

    Yup, ie the need for full viable alternative networks is not even up for debate as necessary for the city, and especially, this traffic system, to work efficiently.

    Shame then the record of advice from the technocrats and funding decisions by politicians have largely failed to deliver this basic need.

  3. OK, but why aren’t they properly addressing the long ago proposed motorway. Instead of spending money narrowing roadways, and making traffic break the laws in driving habits. It’s about time these decision makers wake up.

    1. “I’ve driven all my life on roads that were constantly being widened and constantly full of traffic. I cannot envisage life could be different. I am grumpy at any proposals to do different, even where these proposals are a drop in a bucket and always get cancelled before being built. I am a 20th century driver, and I will drive to my own cemetery plot and call it natural law, damn you!”

    1. We should stop all the cars now and ask the the drivers where they are going and where they have been. That would go down well.

    1. Why not dust off the Dom Road motorway proposal, now that Light Rail will not go ahead? If we pour as much money per km into that one as is proposed for East West, why, I’m sure we can win some prize for the “urban-scale, architecturally sensitive” flyovers it would bring.

      1. No, wait, even better, hear me: We build the Dominion Road motorway, but we TUNNEL it. All the advantages, none of the disadvantages!

        1. Maybe just a cut and cover road. Starts near one end. Bypasses all intersections and drops you at the other end.

  4. Hopefully its not finished.
    That south eastern MWY would be great. Get traffic from the port to Panmure/Mt Wellington etc. What a great idea to go around the back of Onehunga with a MWY. They seem to have been onto it in the 50’s. A shame we have moved away from some of it.
    Original section (SH1 Ellersie/Mt Wellington) now needs serious capacity upgrade and its not even on any 10yr plan.

    1. It’s not on any plans as it’s a dumb idea, not quite as dumb as a SE motorway but in the same ballpark.

  5. SH16 (along with a RT corridor) and SH1 motorway extensions, plus AWHC (with RT corridor) are the big Auckland region motorway plans. Warkwoth to Wellsford isn’t in an urban area, but the other two arguably are.

  6. All NZTA need to do now is re-seal the Auckland Motorways in a 21st century manner !

    They are like riverbeds due to the road surface specification not being able to have large truck & trailer units operating on the motorways !

    Again short sighted under spec’d work that will in pretty short order reduce us to a third world country

    NZTA take plenty of money off road users and Taxpayers and let’s not forget fuel tax and they don’t maintain our roads streets and Motorways
    Isn’t it time Govt started asking some hard questions of NZTA ???.

  7. Motorways in New Zealand pre-date those in Australia and the United Kingdom.

    The first section of motorway in NZ opened near Wellington in 1950; it wasn’t until 1958 that similar roads were built in Australia (Cahill Expressway in Sydney) and the UK (Preston Bypass).

    We have a long history of enabling car-dependency and it’s not over.

    1. Not really. They planned for it to be upgradable to one of those modes. Then they did the maths and realised that the disruption by ripping it up is more expensive rather than bringing forward a duplicate line that is already projected to be needed soon. They future proofed, but the Northern Busway is far too successful so they switched plans.

      1. So why would they future proof it then?

        If it is not successful, then converting it doesn’t make sense to begin with.

        If it is successful, then we would convert it. That for sure was always the point of this future proofing? Road surfaces don’t have infinite lifespans so sooner or later there are going to be major works anyway.

        1. You’re correct, road surfaces Fong last forever, the NEX can be resurfaced with proper hotmix in 100m sections (so as to not be disruptive), 2 days at a time.
          6.24km means 120 days give or take each direction. So avoiding wet weather, weekends etc means the whole thing can be done in a year with next to no disruption.
          Installing light rail and OLE (assuming the busway is already fully ready in other regards for LR) would likely involve several years of disruption and not minimal stuff either.

    2. Easy enough to close some motorway lanes to run buses while the conversion is being done. 2 years of reduced car capacity should see some big change in travel patterns.

    3. I think they should build a separate heavy rail line for freight and passenger. Much of it may need tunnelling. So it will be tremendously expensive. North of Albany can be on the surface and eventually join up to the main trunk to Whangarei. But getting commuter/freight rail to Warkworth via Silverdale and Orewa will help traffic.

  8. Technically completing the motorway network is the worst thing that could be done in 2023. Now is the time to make driving more and more difficult, before we drive our planet of the edge of the cliffs that have been disintegrating along our shorelines. Let us hope that the CRL and other climate positive infrastructure is indeed accelerated to make at least private vehicle movement within Auckland a thing of the past, or exclusively the extremely patient and antisocial!

  9. The fact that a bus corridor is the proposed solution to better transport in East Auckland is just pathetic. Either build a proper motorway from Pakuranga to Botany/Howick or build a train line. Nobody wants to sit around for an hour in a bus to get to the city from BTC.

    1. What would a train line do that a separated bus corridor wouldn’t?

      Any train line out that way is going to need a transfer (most likely at Panmure) to get to the CBD from BTC. That’s how a “network” operates.

    2. Yeah, pffft, what good are busways. It’s not like the single most successful public transport line in the country is a busway or anything….

      It’s also ironic that the Northern Busway has faster end to end trip speeds, averaging 43km/hr, faster than the average speeds on any of Auckland rail lines.

      You’d better go out to Sunnynook station tomorrow morning and inform all the commuters that they are silly for sitting around getting a bus to the city.

  10. I am still really confused by the NCI layout. It is far from completed; they say September 2023 and price I thought had gone over $750m

    And yet there is no onramp for traffic coming from the bridge side the northern motorway to go west? or for traffic coming from the west to go south as stated; with the assumption of course that the second harbour bridge crossing will provide a bunch more general traffic lanes

    It seems like vast amounts of money to achieve a minor improvement.

    I work in Rosedale/Albany area and the growth out north-west means that traffic gets horribly snarled in the evenings with people trying to get home out west. In the morning it is the same – lots of people coming from the west trying to get to work. And yet despite dropping the thick end of a billion, these two routes are not improved?

    It is depressing to see the familiar pattern; lots of cheap land out northwest, so lots of housing pops up with no provision for decent public transport. So you get a steady stream of congestion with cars, requiring expensive road, motorways and onramp improvements. Which then encourages more housing further and further out.

    We have to do better

    1. The congestion issue will not improve until there are also high quality rapid transit services on SH18 too, at least shoulder lanes and stations, linking Constellation Station across to SH16 and into the city.

      And by improve, i don’t mean empty roads like in car ads, i just mean more people being able to opt out taking part in the madness, as has occurred with the Northern Busway and the rail network (when working).

    2. 2 new general traffic lanes from Constellation to Albany and 2 busway lanes from constellation to Albany, redid rosedale road overbridge, extended the Greville road overbridge, added the Greville road busway bridge, rebuilt the McClymonts road bridge, built the albany busway bridge. The lion’s share of the project is not the motorway to motorway connection. And the west to south connection would be the least useful part, hence axed.

    3. Its unlikely the second harbour crossing will provide more general traffic lanes.

      Firstly, there is no exit point for it into the city that would not feed directly into city streets. Or require widening the existing motorway in the city – which would be impossible given the bridges, tunnels and junctions that already exist.

      Secondly, widening the Northern motorway to accommodate the capacity of two crossings would be ridiculously expensive especially given the busway creating a hard limit for the width of the southbound side.

      Thirdly why do we want to be encouraging more traffic taking a less direct route into the city anyway? Whenuapai traffic should be taking the western motorway into the city, or the north western into the north shore.

      All in all, the motorway network in the urban area of Auckland has reached its maximum feasible size and capacity. Its now time to deliver mass transit options to reduce peak car traffic on commuter routes. We have clear examples in Sydney and Melbourne for what we should be planning. And it aint motorways.

      1. I assume that those talking about a proposed second harbour crossing are unaware that the Greenhithe SH18 bridges already cross the Waitemata Harbour?

  11. The Urban Room currently has the 1968 city centre model on display at the exhibition space on Quay Street. It shows part of the motorway as planned, but not built, around the city centre.

    1. We’re so lucky that raised motorway on the harbor edge didn’t get built. Circular Quay in Sydney is a dogs breakfast

  12. A Kauri Point bridge would still be a good idea – allow some more north shore to west Auckland transport without onewa road and harbour bridge. Even just a local road type bridge for buses and bike linking to NW cycleway

    1. SH1 from Ātiamuri to Taupo carries about 7000 vehicles a day. The NZTA’s trigger point for an Expressway is generally around 25,000 vehicles per day.

      This is the reality for most proposed rural expressway sections that aren’t yet built. The traffic volumes and populations of the connected centers would have to multiple x in order to come close to justifying it. At those kinds of traffic volumes you don’t even reduce the costs of maintenance, you still have to maintain the old route for property access reasons, plus the new route. Let alone cover any of the costs / interest of the borrowing to finance it. Let alone paying back the capital.

      Rural highways need median barriers, better intersections, resilience / geotech work like soil nailing, drainage, retaining walls, and new bridges. Rolled out over as much of the network as possible, as fast as possible. Not every highway capex cent dumped into 2 corridors like Hamilton to Taupo, or Wellington to Palmerston North while everywhere else languishes and fights over the scraps.

      Something like this:

      1. Taupo might be a bit too far, but extending it to at least SH29 would be nice. They need to at least put a roundabout in at SH1/29 like they did at SH1/5.

        1. They are putting in a roundabout at SH1 / SH29

          And its planned to the medium term terminus of the expressway, which is why it looks a bit over engineered.

          I would also suggest 2 lane bypasses of Tirau, Putaruru. Nearly continuous median barriers, some driveway consolidation onto a few km of new local roads into some bayed turns. And you’d have a highway that would be set up, safe and adequate for cars forever, barring a tripling in population and traffic.

  13. Most days around 2hrs from City to Drury!
    Seems to be gridlocked most of the day hard to find that lull to make a break down the Southern motorway.
    Get me out of here! Please.

    1. I hear they are building a train station at Drury. Thats probably going to be faster. Papakura to Britomart is 50 mins, so Drury to Brito is probably 55min

      1. They’re actually building three stations out that way – Drury Central, Drury West and Paerata to cater for all the new developments.

  14. “Finished”, but now outdated and no long fit for Auckland’s growing population. What is the plans for the Auckland motorway looking forward for the next 10, 20, 50years? As that is how long it will take to “finish” those plans.

    1. Hopefully nothing, hopefully all that road money is spent on proper public transport.
      Do you want to just keep widening the lanes?

  15. Regardless of whether we end up scraping the Light Rail Project or plowing ahead with it or we start building out our bus network into a BRT system we need to learn from the shambolic CRL project and the very expensive cost over runs ratepayers and taxpayers are now on the hook for.
    A key reason we keep stuffing up on large scale taxpayer funded projects in New Zealand is due to using very poorly considered procurement contracts.
    From what I can see at a quick glance the CRL project is a publicly-funded project that is being procured through a public procurement process rather than a concession contract.
    A concession contract is an agreement between the government and a private company that allows the private company to finance, design, build, operate, and maintain a public infrastructure project in exchange for the right to collect revenue from the project for a specified period.
    Under a concession contract, the private company is responsible for financing the project and bearing the costs of any delays or cost overruns.
    Concession contracts shift the financial risks from the tax payer to the companies that should have control over these risks.
    Because of this they incentivise the designers/constructors to ensure that the folloiwng risks are not disregarded or underestimated in the feasibiility studies and business cases.
    – Identify all potential risks during planning and project development.
    – Develop and implement mitigation measures to reduce risks.
    – Monitor the project to ensure that mitigation measures are effective.
    – Develop contingency plans for risks that cannot be fully mitigated.
    It is easy to make the case that if the CRL project had been offered under a concession contract rather than the procure contract Auckland Rate Payers and the Government (taxpayers) would now not be on the hook for all the cost overuns due to the now very evident poor risk acssessment and project planning of the CRL project.
    We need to be smarter.
    “One concession contract option is what Europeans call the long-term concession or build-operatetransfer (BOT) model, under which a private consortium, selected by a competitive process, gains a long-term ownership interest in the project, sufficiently long that it has a reasonable likelihood of making a return on the investment.
    Because of this long period of responsibility, the consortium will also have strong incentives to build it right in the first place and to minimize lifecycle costs (as opposed to just upfront costs).” [Quotation from Reason Foundation policy brief February 2011]

    1. Your description of a concession contract sounds much like the Tranmission Gully motorway PPP contract , but the taxpayer through Waka Kotahi ended up picking up a lot of type cost overruns so I’m not convinced by your arguments or am I missing something?

  16. It is a pity that automated systems were not implemented earlier, because they could have accelerated the work of highways for at least several years. There are various technologies for creating and implementing an automated highway system in our country, and we need to move to large-scale automation.

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