Auckland commuters are bracing for a hellish start to the week as the wait for urgent repairs to a damaged strut - that has seen four lanes closed on the battered Auckland Harbour Bridge - causes traffic chaos.
At 6.10am on Monday, southbound traffic was already starting to bank up heavily on the northern side of the bridge - at the Onewa Rd on-ramp, back to the onramp from Devonport and Takapuna, and further north to Tristram Ave. Traffic was also heavy on Onewa Rd as motorists tried to get on to the motorway.
Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency is urging people to work from home if possible or use public transport if they have to travel into the city after high winds toppled a truck on Friday afternoon.
The resulting damage to a 22.7m steel strut closed several bridge lanes to assess the damage, causing gridlock and huge tailbacks across parts of the city.
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6.35am: Michael Barnett on the bridge damage and repercussions
Senior journey manager Neil Walker said the four lanes' continued closure, for what is likely several weeks, would cause "significant disruption" to many commuters.
"If you must travel, avoid peak times in the morning and evening and allow extra time for your journey," he said.
"Heavy congestion and delays are expected on both sides of the bridge as well as other state highways and local roads."
Motorists are encouraged to instead take the Western Ring Route, but this route will be especially busy as only half of the normal capacity can now travel across the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
The bridge, surrounding state highways and local roads have been clogged this weekend after two trucks were blown over by "freak winds" gusting up to 127km/h, damaging the bridge's superstructure.
"A temporary fix to reopen lanes may be possible in a few days but a permanent repair is weeks away," Walker said.
"We're working on both and working as quickly as we can."
Although commuters are advised to use public transport where possible, buses on the North Shore will likely run late as they join lengthy queues to cross the bridge.
Shane Ellison, AT's chief executive, urged commuters to give themselves plenty of time to get to work.
"We have plenty of available passenger capacity as we've only been sitting at around 50 per cent of normal pre-Covid levels recently," he said.
"We will also be increasing bus frequency outside of peak hours," Ellison said.
"Our joint operations centre is monitoring traffic 24/7 and adjusting things like traffic signals in real time to keep things flowing as best we can."
And commuters hopping aboard a train will also need to allow plenty of time, with track speeds remaining at just half their normal pace and fewer services because of track maintenance.
Track speeds on Auckland's trains were lowered from 80km/h to 40km/h in mid-August, as contractors work urgently to replace 100km of track in six months.
The frequency of commuter services has also been halved, meaning some trips may take 50 per cent longer than before the changes.
An Auckland Transport spokesman said the speed restrictions would remain in place this week, but an uptick in people working from home because of Covid-19 meant plenty of seats were available.
"Last week trains were about half full compared to normal," he said.
Meanwhile buses will replace trains on the Southern Line between Newmarket and Penrose for a month from today, as urgent upgrades on the Auckland metro railway network continue.
It follows the four-week closure of the Eastern line between Otahuhu and Britomart, which will reopen to trains from today.
Nine structural engineers are removing and replacing the damaged Auckland Harbour
Bridge strut, which weighs around four tonnes and stretches 22.7 metres long.
This includes modelling how to re-balance the strut's load-bearing function so it is safe to incrementally reopen lanes on the centre span with a temporary fix in place, Waka Kotahi/NZTA's Neil Walker said.
Over the weekend, engineers completed safety inspections on the bridge and assessed how to repair or replace the strut hit by one of the trucks.
"The strut is important to the structure of the bridge as it helps support its weight," Walker said.
The engineers also checked if other struts were damaged, given they've had additional load transferred to them. The sheared end of the damaged strut has been temporarily bolted back on to the bridge.
Although the damaged component of the structure is important, there is no risk to the structural integrity or overall safety of the Harbour Bridge, Walker said.
The north and southbound clip-on lanes are safe as they have their own supporting structure.
Extra seats available aboard AT buses
If possible, Auckland commuters should consider travelling during off-peak hours as the repair work continues, Auckland Transport says.
Based on typical passenger numbers, AT says that for Monday morning from 7am to 8.59am:
• Inbound the Northern Busway has 7000 seats available with normal service
• Inbound Onewa Rd has 2500 seats available with normal service
For Monday outbound, 4pm to 5.59pm:
• Northern Busway has 6500 seats available with normal service
• Onewa Rd has 3000 seats available with normal service
As these figures are for seats only, an extra 10 per cent of standing passengers could be added.
Ferries bump up capacity
Fullers360 will be using the largest vessels available on their services to allow for increased passengers, have extra crews members working and additional services on stand-by.
"All ferry services will be running as usual with plenty of passenger capacity available throughout the network," a Fullers360 spokeswoman said.
"We're doing what we can to maximise capacity, and to offer additional frequency where possible."