Motorists say Kapiti Expressway has made commute into Wellington twice as long
The $630 million Kapiti expressway has actually doubled the amount of time it takes to commute into Wellington during the morning rush, some motorists say.
One Kapiti Coast resident believes the morning crawl into the capital is now so bad that she is vowing to use the train instead, even though it will cost her $100 more a month.
Councils across the Wellington region have asked the New Zealand Transport Agency to look into the problem. But there may be no quick fix until construction of the Transmission Gully motorway is finished in 2020.
The problem is that while the new four-lane expressway between Mackays Crossing and Peka Peka has shaved minutes off the journey through the Kapiti Coast, it has also created a traffic bottleneck where it connects to the old two-lane State Highway 1, just north of Paekakariki.
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Raumati Beach resident Natasha Donald said her 45 to 55 minute morning commute to Wellington's CBD, which she car-pools with three other people, has ballooned out between 80 and 95 minutes since the expressway opened in February.
Commuters from as far north as Waikanae used to start driving into Wellington at 6am and take at least 20 minutes to get through Paraparaumu because they were being held up by traffic lights along the way, she said.
That was no longer a problem, meaning traffic from all parts of the Kapiti Coast was now converging on SH1 south of Mackays Crossing a lot earlier, and at the same time, which was clogging up the highway into Wellington.
The backlog alongside Queen Elizabeth Park, which used to be a minor inconvenience, now regularly stretched back a couple of kilometres.
Donald said she supported the new expressway. But the longer commute time meant she would be giving up her car for a train pass after six years of driving into work, even though it would cost $100 more a month.
"We don't want to leave earlier to spend longer [in traffic], she said. "It won't get better until Transmission Gully's built."
Donald is not alone in experiencing delays. A survey conducted by a Raumati community Facebook group member last week found 65 people were experiencing slower commute times compared with 13 who said their commute was faster.
At a meeting of the Wellington Regional Transport Committee on Tuesday, Kapiti Coast Deputy Mayor Janet Holborow said she had heard several accounts of traffic congestion worsening south of the expressway.
"It's early days with the expressway and we only have anecdotal information at present," she said.
"Traffic going south could well ease as people adjust their travel routes and times. The final solution is Transmission Gully and it will be important to ensure that the southern end of that and its connection with SH1 is fit for purpose."
The expressway had otherwise been met with enthusiasm and approval from locals, she said.
Wellington City Council's transport strategy and operations portfolio leader Chris Calvi-Freeman echoed those sentiments, saying he had also received feedback of extended commuting times.
Neil Walker, the transport agency's Wellington highways manager, acknowledged earlier this month that congestion at Mackays Crossing was likely to continue until the Transmission Gully motorway was built.
The transport agency said it would look into the issue and report back to the Regional Transport Committee with its findings at its next meeting in May.