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Trial underway to clear blocked motorway lanes faster

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NZ Transport Agency is advising motorists that over the next couple of months it will be trialling an emergency response vehicle (tow truck) on Wellington’s urban motorway to help prevent traffic jams caused by blocked lanes.

Rod James, the Transport Agency’s Wellington Highway Manager, says during the trial, any light vehicles that block traffic lanes during morning and afternoon peak travel times will be removed to a nearby safe location free of charge.

“As everyone who travels on the urban motorway during peak times knows, a minor incident can cause a major headache by congesting the whole network and drastically increasing travel times,” says Mr James. “The trial aims to find out if having a tow truck on stand-by close to the area will significantly reduce the impact of incidents on motorists during those peak travel times.”

Once a vehicle has been removed to a nearby designated safe location, the tow truck will return to its stand-by location. The vehicle owner is then responsible for the security of their vehicle and for having it removed from the designated safe location.

“We’re running the trial because, as part of the Ngauranga to Aotea upgrade, traffic lanes have been narrowed and road shoulder removed in some places. This could amplify the impact of a break-down if someone stops in a live lane, so we want to remove any vehicle that obstructs peak hour traffic as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving smoothly and to keep everyone safe.”

No decisions have been made yet if the free peak-time removal will become permanent. After the trial, the Transport Agency will review the results and consider the future of the scheme.

Mr James reminds motorists that even brief breakdowns can create a ripple effect of delays, and it remains the responsibility of motorists to ensure their cars are roadworthy and have enough petrol for their journey.

Background info:

The tow truck will be positioned at the SH2 Ngauranga southbound layby (near the interchange) at all times during the trial hours.

At the moment, a tow truck is dispatched by the police after they’ve arrived and assessed the situation. During the trial, the Wellington Traffic Operations Centre will assess the situation and despatch the tow truck immediately.

The success of the trial will be measured by emergency vehicle response time and event duration.

Once the smart motorway is operating, it will help clear incidents faster because of its ability to close a lane with the red X, which means motorists won’t be forced to merge just before the site of the blocked lane. This will also enable emergency services to access an incident with minimal delay. There will be two emergency stopping areas on the northbound direction only. If a driver has trouble with their vehicle, they can pull into an emergency stopping area, where phones will be fitted so they can call the Wellington Traffic Operations Centre for assistance.

The emergency response vehicle trial:

  • runs during peak traffic hours -  6.30 to 9.30am, and 3.30 to 6.30pm - in April and May
  • includes the area from the Terrace Tunnel to Churton Park on SH1, and to Petone on SH2
  • covers both directions but is more targeted at the peak hour direction
  • is free
  • will remove vehicles to a nearby designated safe location.

The Ngauranga to Aotea upgrade aims to reduce congestion, make journey times more reliable, and improve safety on the busiest section of road in the Wellington region. It will result in New Zealand’s first ever ‘smart motorway’.

Making the motorway flow more smoothly will also benefit people using other roads in the area. This is because fewer drivers will use these routes to avoid congestion on the motorway. Public transport journeys will also benefit with more reliable journey times through this section.

Wellington’s smart motorway is due to be operational in April 2016.

For construction updates and more information about the smart motorway, visit www.nzta.govt.nz/smartmotorway(external link).

For more information please contact:

Anthony Frith
Media Manager - Central

T: 04 894 5251
M: 027 213 7617
E: anthony.frith@nzta.govt.nz

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