Ferry services are set to almost double over the next few weeks in a move to help ease heavy congestion around the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Fullers360 is bringing back 30-minute off-peak sailings on its Devonport route, almost doubling the frequency of this service throughout the day.
Services will run every half hour from 5.45am until midnight on weekdays and is in addition to the 15-minute frequency services currently running from 7.30am to 8.30am during peak commute hour during the week.
The 30-minute off-peak sailings on the Devonport route have been happening since Monday as a direct response to what resulted in the reduced lanes on the harbour bridge on Friday.
Chief executive Mike Horne said the temporary measure - which offers 14 extra trips - will be in place for at least two weeks.
"We recognise our role is crucial to the wider public transport network, particularly now, where there are added challenges for all North Shore communities trying to get in and out of the city [centre]."
Confirmation about the extra services on the water comes after three lanes in each direction on the bridge were opened about 8.30am after temporary repairs were completed overnight.
"However, overall lane capacity remains reduced," the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said.
NZTA general manager transport services Brett Gliddon said a southbound lane in the centre span opened just after 7am for peak time traffic and a northbound lane opened just after 8.40am.
"The outer clip-on lanes are also open, which means three lanes in each direction."
The opening of the bridge early this morning functioned as a "big pressure release valve" particularly for the Northern Motorway, a spokesman from the Automobile Association said.
AA principal adviser for infrastructure, Barney Irvine, said: "On both the Northern and Northwestern motorways, traffic started [to] build very early and was looking ugly - though not quite to the levels we saw yesterday.
"But as soon as the extra lane opened, travel times eased off quickly. Tomorrow we'd expect to see a clear improvement in travel times from the last few days, but traffic will remain heavy."
Overnight temporary repair successful but bridge still 'compromised'
The lower half of the truck-damaged strut was replaced with a section of freshly fabricated steel overnight, Gliddon said.
"The temporary fix is in place after extensive efforts by specialist bridge engineers and fabricators who have been assessing the damage, designing the new strut, calculating and planning the repair, and manufacturing the steel strut.
"We had perfect weather conditions on the harbour bridge overnight and so progress was much faster than we had hoped. There was very little wind, good temperatures and visibility which meant the team were able to get the new section installed and carry out the testing all in one night," he said.
"While this is really good news, even with the temporary strut now in place the bridge is still in a more compromised state than usual and loads on the bridge will need to be managed carefully. This will remain until the permanent solution is in place and the bridge can support its full weight capacity again."
Traffic flowing earlier
Commuters are advised that either route - via the harbour bridge or the Western Ring Route - is now okay to use, as travel times start to ease.
By 8.30am, NZTA said southbound delays via SH1 had "fully eased" and SH18, SH16 and SH20 travel times were also starting to improve.
"Use either route subject to your final destination ad remember to check current travel times before you go."
Driving from Silverdale into the city, via the bridge, is now taking just 18 minutes, according to NZTA's website.
Albany to Manukau via the harbour bridge is now taking 45 minutes.
Meanwhile a trip from Te Atatū, in West Auckland, to Manukau via the Western Ring Route is taking almost an hour.
"Progress is also continuing on the permanent solution," NZTA said earlier this morning.
"The bulk of this work involves the calculation and peer review of the new permanent strut in relation to how it will impact on the performance of the whole bridge," it said.
"This includes careful calculations on how to re-balance its load-bearing function.
The new modelling is necessary because the materials of the new structure will not exactly match those that were installed 60 years ago."
Traffic heading towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge is quickly building for a third day early this morning.
Motorists travelling into the city from Silverdale, via State Highway 1 and the bridge, can expect a 50-minute drive, according to the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
Usually, that is a trip of less than 20 minutes.
By 6am, the drive from Albany to Manukau, via the bridge, was taking about 70 minutes. That was usually a trip that takes less than half-an-hour.
People heading into the city centre from Helensville, via SH18 and SH1, are facing a journey time of about an hour and 10 minutes - more than double the usual travel time.
Commuters on SH16 are reporting the motorway is "fully congested" and looks like a 'carpark' just before 6.30am.
"Stop the flow to SH16. It is a carpark with no movement and we can't get on due to ill adjusted traffic lights," one Twitter user wrote.
Motorway cameras are showing long queues on SH1 Esmonde Road and SH1 Northcote Road heading towards the bridge just after 6am.
The congestion is backed up to Tristram Avenue on the Northern Motorway.
Anyone heading to the airport from Albany can expect the drive to take about an hour and 23 minutes, as of 6.30am, via SH1, SH16 and SH20.
Meanwhile, it is a lovely day to catch the ferry into work in Auckland this morning.
Sea change: Commuters take ferries to escape nightmare traffic
There is still no end in sight for motorists battling excruciating traffic jams over the Auckland Harbour Bridge - except, perhaps to leave their car keys at home and jump on public transport.
And many are doing just that, with almost twice as many North Shore commuters catching ferries across the harbour on Monday compared to a week earlier, while 10-15 per cent more passengers jumped on buses yesterday morning.
It comes as motorists again faced massive delays on the roads after a freak gust of wind earlier blew a truck into a support strut on the bridge on Friday, damaging it and forcing engineers to close four motorway lanes.
So many motorists poured onto the detour Northwestern Motorway route through West Auckland that the resulting traffic jams led the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to reverse its recommendation to use the alternative route.
It said drivers might as well stay on the Northern Motorway instead and endure the punishing delays that came with crossing the bridge.
Some hope arrived overnight, however, when temporary repairs to the damaged bridge finally got underway as emergency teams closed all southbound lanes from 9pm-5am.
It is hoped the repairs could allow two extra lanes to be opened over the bridge to light traffic, but even this was unlikely to ease congestion.
"Our advice remains to consider working from home if possible. For those who must travel we encourage you to leave your cars at home and use public transport," NZTA's senior journey manager Neil Walker said.
Despite the traffic chaos, however, many residents were modifying their travel routines.
About 16,500 southbound vehicles crossed the bridge in 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday - or 60 per cent less than at the same time last year, Auckland Transport figures showed.
Northbound traffic was down 39 per cent.
Southbound traffic on Upper Harbour Drive (SH18) - which forms part of the detour through West Auckland - was up 39 per cent, with northbound traffic up 9 per cent.
More than 4000 passengers also caught ferries in and out of the city on Monday.
That was almost double the more than 2000 using ferries a week earlier.
The biggest passenger surges came from Devonport and Birkenhead. Almost 1500 passengers rode the ferry to and from Devonport yesterday, up 106 per cent on a week earlier.
Birkenhead passenger numbers leapt 284 per cent compared to a week earlier to about 500 people.
The Bayswater ferry was up 121 per cent to about 400.
About 6000 people also crossed the bridge on public buses between 7am and 9am yesterday morning. That was 5-10 per cent higher than last week, AT said.
NZTA had also hoped emergency work on the bridge overnight would enable the temporary opening of two more lanes to traffic.
That would mean six of the bridge's eight lanes being opened, instead of just four lanes, as had been the case since Friday's accident.