Auckland's gridlock nightmare is getting worse with a new report showing travel times are taking longer on the city's motorways and main roads.
The report, from the Automobile Association, said the current approach to tackling gridlock by focusing on public transport, walking and cycling is not cutting it and more money needs to be spent on roads.
The latest AA Congestion Report 2021 found when the city was not in lockdown during Covid-19 in the middle of last year, typical morning travel times were worse than the three years before the pandemic.
For example, a trip on the Southern Motorway from Papakura to the CBD took 50 minutes last June, seven minutes longer than in June 2018 and 2019.
What's more, morning peak times on the Southern Motorway are now higher than they were prior to the opening of the Waterview Tunnel in 2017, which provided an alternative to the Southern Motorway through Auckland's isthmus.
Driving into the CBD from Albany on the Northern Motorway on a typical morning peak increased from 33 minutes pre-Covid in 2019 to 36 minutes in June 2021.
Not only are motorists spending more time snarled up in traffic, but the report found the morning peak has stretched out from about 6am to 9.30am to about 5.30am to 10am.
AA senior policy adviser Sarah Geard said the longer travel times came while Auckland's population declined slightly, mostly in central areas.
She said factors that could have fuelled the growth in congestion were population growth in outer areas where people are more likely to drive to work, and lower than normal public transport placing more pressure on the road network.
It's not just the motorways facing growing gridlock. Major roads like the Albany Highway, East Coast Rd, Dominion Rd, New North Rd, Great North Rd, Lincoln Rd, Manukau Rd and Te Irirangi Drive are following a similar trend to motorways, Geard said.
The AA report called for a "change of tack" by Auckland Transport (AT), saying while its focus on public transport, cycling and walking has grown, it hasn't stopped growth in car travel or congestion.
AT figures show the distance travelled by vehicles grew from 14 billion kilometres in 2016 to 16b km in 2019 and is forecast to increase roughly in line with population growth.
To keep Auckland moving, the report said, will require significant investment across all modes of travel, including roads.
The report stressed travel times must be front and centre for transport investment decisions, whether it's commuting to work, delivering freight or a trip to the shops, saying travel times "now play second fiddle to a number of well-meaning but impossible to quantify objectives".
Geard said roading projects planned in growing outer areas of Auckland, such as the northwest and Silverdale, and Drury and Paerata in the south, need to be brought forward because they are already suffering from congestion.
She said Mill Rd, running parallel to the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Drury, is one project that needs an early start to support growth in South Auckland and take pressure off the motorway network.
Last year, the Government downgraded Mill Rd from a four-lane highway to two lanes with a focus on safety when the price ballooned from $1.4b to $3.5b.
The report said there is also a need for a "wide lens" on a new harbour crossing, saying a "narrow focus on the need for enhanced public transport to the city centre won't cut it", nor will a road crossing that feeds traffic into the already-clogged motorways.
"The crossing work provides a huge strategic opportunity to take a fresh look at Auckland's motorway network to identify the role it will need to play to support ongoing population growth, alongside other modes," the report said.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has said planning is being brought forward for a second Waitematā Harbour crossing, with public consultation on options starting this year and with a preferred option selected next year.
An AT spokesman said over the past two years there had been a significant and prolonged shift from public transport to cars for daily commutes, which has undoubtedly contributed to congestion on the roads.
He said in April 2019 before Covid-19, the morning commute to the city centre was almost equally split 46:45 per cent between cars and public transport respectively. In April this year, 67 per cent of morning travel was by car and 26 per cent by public transport.
When Auckland moves to the green Covid setting and masks are no longer required on public transport, AT expects to see a significant shift back to public transport and some easing in peak hour congestion, the spokesman said.
He said AT is also working with the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency on measures to make better use of key roads to improve travel times, such as transit lanes or dynamic lanes, which change the direction of centre lines at peak times.
Mayor Phil Goff was not keen on the AA's suggestion to spend more money on roads, despite supporting a number of costly motorway projects, such as the $900m Puhoi to Warkworth highway and widening the Southern Motorway between Papakura and Drury.
"Roads will continue to be part of the mix, but investments in and reliance on roads alone will not solve the problem of congestion... the product of decades of unchecked urban sprawl and underinvestment in infrastructure.
"With 43 per cent of Auckland's total emissions coming from transport, mainly private cars, it is essential that we develop sustainable, convenient alternatives. If we don't, we'll be leaving a rotten legacy for our kids and grandkids," Goff said.
Meanwhile, the Government is tipped to approve congestion pricing later this year to help fight the city's worsening traffic woes and emissions, paving the way for motorists to be charged to drive on inner-city roads as soon as 2025.