Hamilton traffic delays frustrate drivers

DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
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Frustration is mounting over tailbacks and gridlock at key intersections on Hamilton's northern gateway, with delays of nearly an hour at peak times.

And critics are sceptical of New Zealand Transport Agency and city council transport staff claims that the imminent Te Rapa bypass will fix the problem.

Frustrated drivers have complained about queues stretching from the new Ruffell Rd intersection to the Te Kowhai Rd roundabout at peak hours.

Lines of traffic have backed up as far as the Boulevard-Te Kowhai Rd roundabout, with queues on both sides of the Te Kowhai rail crossing.

The congestion will add to big delays in the city's north expected from today when a burst of work at the Wairere Dr-River Rd section of the Ring Rd is expected to test drivers' already thinly-stretched patience.

Council and state highway agencies say the new Te Rapa expressway route will solve the problem, but city councillor Dave Macpherson and others say the issue has shown up a fundamental misunderstanding of traffic flows.

One Horotiu resident who works at The Base has complained to NZTA that her usual ten-minute drive home can now take as long as 55 minutes.

Lisa Balloch believes emergency services would never be able to negotiate the lines of traffic because there is no room even if drivers pull aside.

Mr Macpherson has called for the new Ruffell Rd lights to be turned off and the feeder road exit to revert to a give way to give SH1 traffic priority.

NZTA Waikato state highways manager Kaye Clark said work at Te Rapa, Wairere Drive and at The Base was placing local roads under pressure.

The Te Rapa section of the Waikato Expressway was just three weeks from opening, she said, and would replace the existing SH1 north from the city.

"It is expected that delays, particularly at the new traffic signals at the intersection of Ruffell Rd and SH1, will be alleviated. Queues and delays will be much less than now when the expressway opens," said Mrs Clark.

Mrs Clark said the NZTA and council were working to minimise delays.

But Mr Macpherson said the opening of the Te Rapa Bypass will relieve only a small proportion of the problem, "as a large part of the traffic is vehicles that travel further in along Te Rapa Rd, or east on Wairere Drive - and any reduction will soon be eaten up by traffic growth in the northern areas."

WE SEE RED AT MANY INTERSECTIONS

Waikato Times readers have nominated Hamilton's most frustrating traffic lights, among them intersections that have only just opened.

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With new lights at the Ruffell Rd-State Highway 1 intersection blamed for contributing to big queues, we asked Times readers which ones annoy them the most.

And it's clear we struck a raw nerve, with some city drivers seeing red.

"That darn one that stops you at the roundabout coming down River Rd before the Fairfield Bridge," wrote Facebook follower Joshua Middleton.

"Anglesea St, and Mill St as there is always some idiot who holds up the traffic while they get their windows washed," were Sandra Robinson's picks.

"Anglesea St," was also Matty Corcoran's nomination: "The sequence seems wrong as it's stop and start all the way up if you catch it wrong."

"All of them," was Keith Spicer's succinct addition to the worst lights list.

"Grey St and O'Neill St since the left hand rule change. I won't go up there now . . . those lights are absolutely stupid now," offered Georgina Hickman.

So how do they work, and are they set up simply to irritate motorists?

Hamilton has 80 sets of lights linked to a central manager - "essentially a large computer", city council transport manager Phil Consedine says.

It's all run by SCATS - Sydney Co-ordinated Adaptive Traffic Control - an intelligent traffic light management system, considered one of the world's best transport network operating programmes, he says.

The system adapts signals, in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We have an interface which allows us to take control of lights and tweak settings for red, green and orange lights," Mr Consedine says. ‘We can also adjust phasing [how long a light stays red or green] and factor in pedestrian needs, co-ordination and priority. For example, we can match signals intersections together to improve or adjust traffic flow."

THE MOST IRKSOME

Forest Lake Rd/Te Rapa Rd/Victoria St

Te Rapa Rd/Avalon Dr/Wairere Dr

Powells Rd/Wairere Dr River Rd/Fairfield Bridge

Mill St/Ulster St

Anglesea St – all State Highway 1/Ruffell Rd Greenwood St/Massey St

Lorne St/Killarney Rd/Kahikatea Dr

- © Fairfax NZ News

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