Truck breakdown, then crash, cause traffic chaos north of Wellington
Motorists were left fuming after a major traffic jam lasted several hours and caused massive delays on State Highway 2 heading into Wellington.
The sequence of events was triggered by a truck and trailer unit, which broke down about 6.20am on Monday on SH2, heading into Wellington, just north of Petone.
The problem was compounded minutes later when three cars and a motorbike collided in a nose-to-tail in the right-hand lane just north of the truck breakdown.
The knock-on effect meant that at its peak traffic backed up about 30km to Upper Hutt, and the length of Petone's esplanade and beyond.
In some cases people faced an almost three-hour commute into the city. Even Wellington City rubbish collection was delayed by hours, even though the incident was several kilometres from the city.
NZTA said while the crash had been cleared from the scene shortly after 7am, they warned motorists that there would be significant delays.
Regional performance manager Mark Owen said even though the crash was cleared by 7.10am, traffic had already backed up, and a specialist heavy haulage vehicle had to be brought in to remove the broken down truck.
The specialist tow truck reached the site at 10am, and cleared the lane within half an hour.
"The congestion around the site contributed to the delay in the tow truck arriving on site," Owen explained of the morning's traffic troubles.
"We appreciate that being stuck in traffic is frustrating and we thank those who were inconvenienced this morning for their patience."
But that wasn't the end of it. At 9.40am a breakdown in the Arras Tunnel in the city added to delays, affecting Taranaki St traffic too, and was then cleared around 10am.
One of the unlucky commuters was bus passenger Tim Sawyer who did not make it far from his Eastbourne home in the three hours after he hopped on a 7.10am service bound for work in Wellington's CBD.
Some people jumped off the bus and headed to the train station," he said.
Sawyer said he had arranged a colleague to step into his morning meetings and was working on his laptop on the bus.
"It's somewhat of an inconvenience - you could put it that way."
By 10am, Sawyer's bus was gathering pace, and had made it to Lambton Quay.
One driver took an hour to get from the Haywards intersection to the Melling Bridge. Traffic along a huge section of SH2 at 9.15am was at a virtual standstill. Another said at 10am they were still stuck on the Wainuiomata Hill road.
Drivers were taking alternative routes through the central Hutt to avoid SH2, causing major delays in Petone and on Rutherford St.
At 8.25am commuter Courtney Churchill said she had been in traffic for two hours.
About 9am commuter Phillip Chapman told Stuff: "The whole Hutt Valley at a stand still. A normal three-minute trip taking almost an hour, just for a break down on [the] highway 10km away."
A witness to the truck breakdown said the vehicle was heading south when smoke started to billow from the truck.
ALL EYES ON TRANSMISSION GULLY
NZTA highway manager Neil Walker said when there was an incident on SH2, "given the network constraint of that route and significant peak flows in the morning and evening, there is the risk of congestion and delays when a natural event or incident happens."
Transmission Gully, earmarked for completion by 2020, would help ease congestion by providing extra lanes, he said.
Due to the earlier incidents on SH2 this morning our rubbish/recycling trucks have been delayed, collections will be approx 2 hours late.— Wgtn City Council (@WgtnCC) March 19, 2017
But for SH2 the planned Petone-Grenada link road was one of the most important major infrastructure projects that would help resilience in incidents such as a crash, breakdown, flooding, storm or earthquake.
Walker said the agency was looking at optimising other forms of transport, such as rail and cycling.
An investigation was underway to improve the cycling and walking connection between Wellington and the Hutt Valley which would improve alternatives to driving.
FINAL UPDATE: The car crash has now been CLEARED. There is still major congestion in the area. Expect delays. ^MF https://t.co/kPiNV1ecTD— NZTA Wellington (@NZTAWgtn) March 19, 2017