Following the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's announcement of free local rail travel during this weekend's 36 hour southbound closure of the Southern Motorway, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is reiterating its advice to all Aucklanders to drive only if they have to from 5pm this Saturday.
"The stretch of motorway we are closing across the Newmarket Viaduct normally accommodates over 60,000 vehicles on Sunday alone," says the NZTA's State Highways Manager for Auckland, Tommy Parker. "If normal traffic volumes are maintained, and people use their cars as usual, severe congestion will quickly build up throughout the region."
Mr Parker is optimistic, however, that the disruption can be kept to manageable levels because of support from the NZTA's regional transport partners like ARTA, and from the high level of public awareness about the closure.
"Our latest poll to measure the effectiveness of our education campaign shows that 83% of all Aucklanders know of the closure and its potential impacts - a figure that we hope will translate into sharply reduced traffic volumes this weekend," he adds. "If the great majority of people don't drive, it will ensure Auckland's roads remain viable for emergency services and those for whom travel is absolutely essential."
The closure will enable the 'Southbound Switch' of motorway traffic on to the first half of the new Newmarket Viaduct no later than 5am on Monday, 6 September. During the closure, paving works will be completed at either end of the new viaduct, and the 800-tonne 'Big Blue' construction gantry will be moved across onto the existing motorway.
"The opening of the new southbound viaduct is the culmination of 18 months of extremely challenging construction on Stage 1 of the Newmarket Connection: Viaduct Replacement Project," says Mr Parker. "We have worked alongside the country's busiest stretch of motorway with virtually no impact on daytime motorists."
"Importantly, this single closure and subsequent opening of the new viaduct will allow us to accelerate work to deliver a fourth southbound lane as far as Greenlane by next January."
The extra southbound lane will improve peak hour traffic flows through Auckland's Central Motorway Junction [CMJ] bottleneck, and reduce journey times by approximately five minutes. When combined with the completion in mid-2012 of the Victoria Park Tunnel project at the north end of the CMJ, peak hour southbound journey times will be cut by up to 10 minutes.
Mr Parker says the level of interest and awareness in the Newmarket Connection project was reflected in the huge turnout for the public day on the new southbound viaduct. Almost 15,000 people, braved the threat of hail showers last Sunday to walk and cycle across it. At this celebration, which raised over $15,000 for local Rotary healthcare and education charities, the NZTA also unveiled its latest project video update(external link). The 10 minute update, now available to view at www.facebook.com/switchmyroute(external link), profiles the work that has been carried out to complete the new southbound viaduct in preparation for this weekend's switch.
15,000 Aucklanders took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk across the new southbound Newmarket Viaduct yesterday. By 5am next Monday, this same new stretch of motorway will be accommodating 80,000 vehicles a day.