John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: At Waterview they've built a bottleneck

Until a week ago I was looking forward to Waterview motorway connection like a kid waiting for Christmas. Correction: Like a kid who has been waiting 40 years for Christmas.

That's as long as I've lived in Auckland and for all that time I have resented our ridiculous route to the airport.

Having to leave the motorway at Gillies Ave or Market Rd and wind through suburban streets has been a disgrace to a decent city. No wonder foreigners taking a taxi from the airport to the CBD start to wonder if they are being hijacked in Pah Rd. Ever since we were promised the Waterview connection would provide motorway all the way from the North Shore and central city, I have been counting the years and months until its scheduled opening, just a month away now.

Then last weekend, we heard it will have traffic lights.

Traffic lights? They make sense to me on entrance ramps but not half way along a motorway.

Drivers use motorways to avoid them.

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) has discovered it will need lights to control the flow into the new Waterview tunnels from the northwestern motorway and the eastbound exit. Only the westbound exit will let the traffic flow unimpeded so that, with any luck, there will not be a build-up of traffic in the tunnel.

What this means is the damned tunnels are not big enough. It's the Harbour Bridge again. No sooner had it opened than it became apparent four lanes would not be enough. But a tunnel is harder to enlarge.

They have built a bottleneck.

They should name it Helen Clark. As local MP and Prime Minister at the time, she was given the credit, as it was called, for insisting the planned connection go underground. The good citizens of Onehunga and Mt Roskill had the new southwestern motorway slicing through their suburb but Waterview was sacred.

As far as I can see, the Oakley Creek and Carrington Hospital, now Unitec, form a natural boundary for Waterview anyway, and a motorway along there not have divided the harbourside community but that's water under the bridge.

We are going to get light-controlled tunnels.

So much for my dream of driving to the airport with no hold-ups on a long, sweeping loop through the western suburbs and down onto that magnificent new motorway through Mangere. Instead, queues may back up on the interchange lanes to and from the tunnels.

Still, it will be an improvement on the rabbit run through Epsom.

And let's be optimistic, it is possible the traffic will flow smoothly most of the time, the flashing ramp lights might seldom hold us up and the last vital piece in Auckland's long-planned motorway system will fall into place, creating a big figure eight of rapid transit.

It really is a milestone event for Auckland, the climax of a great deal of motorway construction around the city during the past 10 or 20 years.

It is simply not true that Auckland's transport infrastructure has failed to keep pace with its population growth. Drive around the northwestern and southeastern sprawls of Auckland these days and you are on new motorways. Go further north and that northern gateway toll road is a beautiful construction.

The magnificent southwestern motorway that branches to the airport, continues through Manukau. The airport branch has not been able to cope with the tourism boom we are having but it is being widened right now.

Further south we've got the Waikato Expressway.

The first year I was in Auckland, 1974, I remember covering an Auckland Regional Authority planning committee meeting where the chief planner assumed Auckland would reach Hamilton by the turn of the century. At the rate New Zealand's population had been growing from the 1950s to that point, especially in Auckland, his projection was realistic.

But that very year, 1974, the economy stalled and the population was practically static for the rest of the century.

Most years, more New Zealanders left the country than returned. The economy was adjusting to open markets and not attracting much immigration. How different the picture is today.

In the past four or five years, the economy has been growing steadily while most others in the world languish, more New Zealanders are returning or staying here, net immigration reached 70,000 last year, the population grew at a rate not seen in any year since 1974.

Auckland's housing has not kept pace but its roading certainly has, for private and public transport. We all complain about congestion but it is no more than normal for a city of a million people. From next week when the academic year begins, congestion will be at its worst but the traffic will be moving. Gridlock is rare.

So well done NZTA despite the damned lights.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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