It’s supposed to be the quietest time of the year on our road, but we’re still plagued by traffic jams

For Auckland's beleaguered motorists, at least one thing has gone right during the Christmas-New Year period. A four-vehicle crash in a northbound lane on the harbour bridge was cleared quickly, keeping delays to travellers to a minimum.

Clearly, the police learned something from a crash in much the same location three weeks earlier, which resulted in motorists being trapped in their cars for up to four hours.

There, however, the good news ends. This holiday period has produced most of the same old problems for motorists ... with the occasional twist.

The first of these was a change from the usual Boxing Day snarl-ups on the Northern and Southern motorways. Perhaps many people know from experience that it is best to avoid travelling on that day. Whatever the reason, the congestion was at its worst a day later, on December 27.

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This caused the Transport Agency to encourage people to consider delaying their trips or to use alternative routes. Any such postponement would have meant already delayed travellers were biting significantly into their time at their holiday destinations. It was not what they wanted to hear.

Another quirk is that those who have remained in Auckland have not been spared their share of misery. Motorists are accustomed to moving around the city with the minimum of hold-ups at this time of the year. The closure of two of the eight lanes on the harbour bridge for re-sealing has changed that, while highlighting once more the amount of traffic that uses the structure at all times.

Even though three lanes are still running in each direction, northbound traffic has been held up at the southern approaches to the bridge for up to an hour.

It is understandable that the work on the clip-ons, described by the Transport Agency as annual maintenance, should be done at this time of year. There are fewer cars in Auckland than at any other time, and therefore the least possible disruption is created.

But the agency was surely being over-confident when it predicted that plenty of advance notice of possible delays on motorway message boards would help to minimise the disruption. The bridge is too essential as a transport artery for that to be forecast with any optimism.

What might relieve some of the motorists' woes would be the wider broadcasting of warnings of traffic snarl-ups on radio stations. Many people have the radio on in their cars. Warnings of problems from this source have an immediacy that tends to steer drivers towards an alternative route or to delaying their journey.

Yet despite a worsening situation, there seems, if anything, to be less traffic advice through this channel than in the past. The city would be well served by a radio entrepreneur who could realise the commercial potential of such a service.

The frustrations will continue as people return from their holidays. The re-sealing of the harbour bridge clip-ons will not be completed until January 8. Even now holidaymakers may be contemplating the best time to return to the city.

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For some, delaying their exit did not work out well. There is no guarantee that what they imagine is a smart decision on when to travel home will serve them any better.

Their only consolation may be the police's greater willingness to acknowledge their plight by clearing accident scenes as quickly as possible.