A doubling of commute times along Auckland city's Quay St has politicians and the AA criticising a lack of planning around the major roadworks "madness".

The arterial four-lane Quay St, running the length of Auckland's CBD and parallel to Waitematā Harbour, has been reduced to a single lane each way since December.

The Auckland Transport (AT) "Downtown Programme" responsible for the roadworks is a total revamp of the city waterfront area, costing $321 million and incorporating six major projects for the 2021 America's Cup.

The projects currently affecting Quay St are the strengthening of the sea wall, an "enhancement" of the street, which will permanently reduce four lanes of traffic to two, and adding a cycleway and bus lanes and widening footpaths.

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AA spokesperson Barney Irvine said motorists had endured an "alarming jump" in travel time on Quay St, with 16 minutes for a peak-hour journey that spans five city blocks plus the length of Ports of Auckland.

However, when the Herald tested it at 5pm on a Friday, starting from The Strand, travelling the 1.8km length of Quay St, to its Hobson St end, the journey took 22:26 min.

The projects currently impacting Quay St are the strengthening of the sea wall. Photo / Dean Purcell
The projects currently impacting Quay St are the strengthening of the sea wall. Photo / Dean Purcell

Before construction, the AA measured morning peak commute times as nine to 10 minutes, and three to four minutes when traffic was free-flowing.

"There seems to be a view in some quarters that, when you choke off access, vehicle trips just 'dissolve' as people find new ways to get around, like public transport or walking and cycling," Irvine said.

"The reality is, piles of people who drive do so because they have no choice – they need their vehicles for work.

"So when AT re-purposes key roads for 'place-making', it needs to make sure that other arterial roads are ready to carry heavier volumes as traffic shifts around. The main concern for us with all of this is that we're not seeing a plan to deal with that impact."

Quay St has been reduced to a single lane each way since December. Photo / Dean Purcell
Quay St has been reduced to a single lane each way since December. Photo / Dean Purcell

In particular, Irvine said the corridor from the Strand through to Grafton Gully was "coming under massive strain as traffic re-routes away from the CBD" with increasing trucks from the Port of Auckland compounding the situation.

AT's downtown programme director, Eric Van Essen, said existing through-traffic rate was "not expected to shift" from Quay St onto to parallel Customs St until 2020.

Customs St itself is currently constrained around the Lower Albert St intersection by its own roadworks for the City Rail Link.

As it stands, the only AT initiatives "maintaining through-traffic capacity" on Quay St include some restrictions on turning movements into and out of side streets, some traffic light phasing, prioritising the northern footpath east of Queens Wharf for bikes and the southern footpath for pedestrians.

Auckland's Quay St is having a major overhaul that is causing headaches for vehicles and pedestrians. Photo / Dean Purcell
Auckland's Quay St is having a major overhaul that is causing headaches for vehicles and pedestrians. Photo / Dean Purcell

From late 2020, changes will be made to the Tangihua St/Quay St intersection that will divert traffic from Quay St.

An upgrade to The Strand, which merges into Quay St east of the CBD, is also being worked through between AT and the NZ Transport Agency - although there is no timeframe for delivery.

Because the Quay St roadworks were approved in December 2018 on a non-notified resource consent application, allowing no public submissions, motorists had no warning to pre-plan alternate routes to avoid Quay St.

Auckland councillor Chris Darby said questions he posed to AT about Quay St congestion did not give him "the remotest sense" that a "robust travel plan in response" had been devised.

Quay St is having a major overhaul that is causing headaches for vehicles and pedestrians. Photo / Dean Purcell
Quay St is having a major overhaul that is causing headaches for vehicles and pedestrians. Photo / Dean Purcell

"Yes we have to have a daily traffic management plan: 'this is how we code the lanes, and they're reduced, one each way'," Darcy said.

"A travel plan hovers above that and says 'okay we can see a port over there, we can see a downtown carpark. We can see Britomart carpark, we know there are Uber drivers'.

"It's understanding the complexity of movement and then having a plan to deal with that, and I'm not aware of AT having a travel plan as opposed to a traffic management plan."

AT noted access to the Britomart carpark had been modified to manage queuing, and right-hand turn restrictions from Britomart Place into Quay St had been lifted.

Auckland councillor Desley Simpson said more consideration should have been given to the numerous other construction projects already affecting downtown Auckland before the start of the Quay St "enhancement".

"To reduce Quay St to one lane knowing thousands of vehicles use it on a daily basis, with no advance notice to commuters re alternative options, and when Customs St is full of construction, is planning madness."