The third lane in Auckland's Victoria Park Tunnel will open on Monday, 26 March and the NZ Transport Agency says it will make drivers' journeys on State Highway 1 to the North Shore and beyond much quicker.
On the same day, the moveable lane barrier operating on the Auckland Harbour Bridge will start its extended run to the Fanshawe Street intersection - providing an additional fifth lane through St Marys Bay for northbound traffic during the afternoon peak.
'On 26 March we will be unlocking the full potential of the Victoria Park Tunnel project," says the NZTA's State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker. "When we have the third tunnel lane open and the extra lane through St Marys Bay, journeys from Greenlane to the Auckland Harbour Bridge will be quicker and easier."
"In January we delivered big improvements for drivers going south by reconfiguring the Vic Park flyover for four southbound lanes. It's estimated that drivers are saving six to eight minutes on trips south of Fanshawe Street.
"Now it is the turn of those driving north to benefit from the increased motorway capacity built as part of the Victoria Park Tunnel project."
Mr Parker says people will need to drive with care until they get used to the new northbound driving conditions.
When the moveable lane barrier machine ends its afternoon run to Fanshawe Street at about 3.30pm, a gate will open to provide drivers from both Fanshawe and Beaumont Streets with access to the peak lane. The peak lane will close at 7pm when the lane barrier machine begins its return trip to close the fifth lane on the bridge.
The opening of the northbound motorway improvements means that, for the first time, the number of peak-time traffic lanes through St Marys Bay will match the five lanes open on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
A video animation showing how the Fanshawe Street on ramp will work in its new layout can be seen at: www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/victoria-park-tunnel/video-fanshawe.html(external link)
The tunnel's third lane will extend back to the ramp signals where traffic from the Northwestern Motorway (SH16) and Grafton Gully merges with SH1.
"In time, as further improvements are made in Grafton Gully, we expect this exit to become the preferred route home for commuters who work east of Queen Street," Mr Parker says.
The Victoria Park Tunnel project is one of the seven roads of national significance and completion of the project, which includes the 450 metre-long tunnel, will eliminate the last serious traffic bottleneck on the central motorway junction between the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Newmarket Viaduct.
"For years, that section of motorway through Victoria Park has been the most heavily congested on the Auckland network. That will all be in the past when drivers become used to the completed project and benefit from more reliable and safer journeys," Mr Parker says.
Mr Parker says it is not planned to re-open the Wellington Street on ramp when the third lane in the tunnel opens. A joint Auckland Transport and NZTA team will make a decision on the future use of the Wellington Street on ramp later this year.