Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: No excuse for keeping motorway link closed

Photo / File
Photo / File

Leaving it to the motorway bosses to come up with an unbiased solution to the Wellington St on-ramp dilemma is like asking Graham Henry to preside over an official inquest into the All Blacks' 2007 loss to France.

Motorway engineers hate on-ramps. They disrupt flow. In their ideal State Highway 1, they might concede the need for entry points at Cape Reinga and Invercargill, but that would be it. That way, there'd be precious few vehicles to wear out the tarmac, crash into overbridges, smash into each other and otherwise disturb the tranquillity of the ribbons of black with which the national road-builders have crisscrossed the country.

The Transport Agency is trying to make the Wellington St debate all about reducing the evils of congestion on their glorious highway which is, of course, what they're paid to do.

But they're just being very bad neighbours, trying to flossy up their rubbish with a pink ribbon before tipping it over the fence on to Auckland city roads.

With the new Victoria Park tunnel bedded in and drivers heading north and south through Spaghetti Junction familiarised with the new arrangements, the engineers don't want to tempt fate by reopening the ramp. The now problematic entry point was never publicly announced as doomed during the design phases.

Indeed, on August 20, 2010 when NZTA issued a reminder to motorists that it was "closing [a] busy motorway on-ramp for tunnel project" in three days, there was no suggestion it was to be permanent. It specified the closure would be "for three months until the end of November for necessary work on the Victoria Park Tunnel project".

NZTA Auckland manager Tommy Parker admitted "the closure will test other northbound on-ramps in the central city, particularly during the evening peak, and we are doing everything we can to minimise the closure's impact on drivers and people who rely on public transport".

He said "we appreciate the support we are getting from drivers and communities" during "the three-month closure at Wellington St".

That was 24 months ago, and despite an upgrade, said to have cost several million dollars, the on-ramp is still closed - despite resolutions by Auckland Council, and lobbying by the Automobile Association and communities affected by increased congestion in city streets adjacent to the alternative ramps at Curran St and Fanshawe St.

Even 70 per cent support for re-opening by the 700 or so Aucklanders who made submissions to NZTA's public consultation process has left the highway bosses unmoved.

NZTA is saying little, but motorway lobbyists fear that if the 8000 or so vehicles that used the Wellington St ramp each day before it closed returned, all the good done by the $391 million tunnel project would be lost. Which rather begs the question of why didn't they just close the on-ramp and save the $391 million. What is downplayed is the effect on the surrounding city streets of 8000 more cars and trucks.

NZTA figures show that the roads around Victoria Park are worst affected as most of the redirected traffic joins the queues to leave the CBD at Fanshawe St. The rest go through Ponsonby or up College Hill to the Curran St on-ramp.

If Mr Parker wants to see the closure's "impact on drivers and people who rely on public transport", could I suggest he climb aboard a Link bus - green or orange - heading out west along Victoria St any evening rush hour.

There he could tell his fellow passengers what he's done to alleviate the increase in congestion on city streets as the buses - still without priority lanes - struggle to share the roads with the extra cars that once used Wellington St.

Two years ago, NZTA pleaded the right to tip the congestion on to city streets for three months for the greater good during work on the tunnel project.

It's past time they took their rubbish back.

If reopening Wellington St clogs up their nice new motorway then tough, but they did design it.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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