Auckland motorists had to spend up to seven times longer in traffic than normal yesterday after four lanes in the Auckland Harbour Bridge were closed following crashes.
That included a trip from Albany into the city's central business district taking between 50-and-70 minutes yesterday afternoon compared to a normal 12-minute off-peak commute, the Automobile Association said.
Peak hour trips lasted even longer with two Herald journalists taking one hour to drive three blocks from the top of Nelson St to the Victoria St intersection in the city centre.
National leader Judith Collins seized on the chaos with a promise to build a rail and road tunnel under the harbour to provide a second crossing to commuters.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford also backed a new harbour crossing, saying planning was under way.
The drama came after a freak burst of wind blew two trucks over on the bridge at 11am yesterday.
Videos captured the frightening moments. One high-sided truck can be seen lurching onto two wheels before toppling onto a median barrier, while just moments later a second truck is buffeted sideways and thrown into a bridge supporting strut.
The damage to the strut led Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency engineers to close the bridge's four inner lanes - leaving only two lanes in each direction open.
The crashes caused massive delays in Auckland's city centre and road network, particularly on the Northern, Southern and Northwestern Motorways.
Auckland's AA said the delays stretched in all directions.
Those heading from the city centre over the Harbour Bridge to Albany took 40 minutes to make the journey around lunchtime instead of the usual 11 minutes.
Similarly a trip from the CBD to Westgate took close to 40 minutes for much of the afternoon, where it would normally take closer to 11 minutes.
Travelling from Manukau into the CBD in the mid-to-late afternoon, meanwhile, took up to 63 minutes, compared to a normal 18 minutes.
In a blow to hospitality, retail and other businesses struggling economically in the city centre after the Covid-19 lockdown, the delays could also stretch weeks.
One of the trucks blown over by the wind caused major structural damage to a vertical strut on the bridge. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency advises it could take weeks to open the bridge's four inner lanes.
However, Transport Minister Twyford told Newstalk ZB this morning there was hope some traffic would be allowed to use the inner lanes.
"The best case is that there could be a temporary solution that would allow some light traffic to use the central arch of the bridge," Twyford said.
"But it is by no means clear that is going to be possible."
"And I'm hoping that by the end of the weekend or early next week Waka Kotahi is able to advise whether that temporary solution is a goer or not."
"If it is not then we are looking, worst case, at several weeks of disruption with those four lanes out of action.
"It seems certain the steel strut will have to be replaced and that means fabricating a new one in New Zealand."
NZTA has called a press conference for 2.30pm today to answer questions about the bridge damage.
AA's senior infrastructure advisor Sarah Geard said the traffic disruptions set to be caused by the lane closures were "another awful blow" to a city just starting to get back on its feet after the Covid-19 lockdowns.
"What this underlines is that we really need to speed up the conversation about an alternative Harbour crossing," she said.
"It's unacceptable for one, relatively minor incident to have this much impact – Auckland needs a more resilient network."
National's Collins said her party, if elected, would get to work straight away on plans to build a road and rail tunnel under Waitemata Harbour, with construction to start in 2028.
"This will be New Zealand's biggest ever infrastructure project, and will require a huge amount of work – but it will be worth it," she said.
Funding for Auckland's second harbour crossing was included in National's $31 billion transport infrastructure package, announced in July.
Labour's Twyford also said a new harbour crossing was needed to ensure the city couldn't be brought to a standstill by a "freak accident". "By the end of the 2020s, the Northern Busway is going to reach capacity and so we are going to need another harbour crossing," he said.
"And the planning and designation work on that is well under way. It is very likely to be a tunnel and it will include rail."
North Shore residents, meanwhile, were being asked to work from home next week if possible or to take the Northern Busway.
Auckland Transport said it would not be adding more buses to the Busway but was confident it had room for plenty more passengers next week as its capacity had "been sitting at around 50 per cent of normal pre-Covid levels".
"We will not be adding more vehicles as we don't have any additional buses due to our ongoing bus rail replacement programme," the agency said.
AT said it had more than 7000 seats for passengers on its city-bound Northern Express buses running from 7am-9am Mondays, and the Onewa Rd service had more than 2500 seats.
The return peak hour buses from 4pm-6pm had more than 6500 seats on the Northern Express and 3000 on the Onewa Rd route.
"We are also planning to increase frequency outside of peak hours so that more customers can take advantage of our 30 per cent off-peak fare discount," it said.
"Ferries are operating as usual and have spare seating capacity."
"We ask customers to travel off-peak if they can, plus plan ahead and allow extra time for their journey as there might be delays from joining the queues to cross the bridge. Also AT reminds customers to wear a face covering."
Those driving between South and north Auckland could consider using the Waterview Tunnel link to the Northwestern Motorway along with State Highway 18 to circle around the city through the west.