Was the Waterview Tunnel worth the wait?

Stuff reporter Craig Hoyle takes viewers for a ride through Waterview Tunnel during Monday rush hour.

After years of construction and months of delays, the Waterview Tunnel has been open now for just shy of a fortnight. 

But has it made any difference? 

New Zealand Transport Agency's Auckland/Northland Highway Manager Brett Gliddon thinks so. 

We're almost two weeks in - has the Waterview Tunnel lived up to the hype?

We're almost two weeks in - has the Waterview Tunnel lived up to the hype?

The tunnel was opened under a cloak of darkness, just before 1am on July 2. Since its first Monday, there have been around 63,000 vehicles through the tunnel each day. 

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This includes an average of between 3000 and 5000 vehicles in each direction during morning and afternoon peaks. 

JASON DORDAY/Stuff.co.nz

This drone footage taken between 7.30am and 8am illustrates traffic before and after the Waterview tunnel opened.

In the first few days, NZTA released figures which showed drastic cuts to the commute times for long suffering Auckland drivers.

There was a 20-minute saving for those using the Waterview Tunnel to travel from the CBD to the airport at 8am on the first Monday compared with using Manukau Rd and Gillies Ave, on the previous Monday morning - so what had been an average 42-minute CBD/airport trip dropped to just 22 minutes.

The Waterview Connection, joining the Northwestern and Southwestern motorways was the final link in the Western Ring Route. 

NZTA say the Waterview Connection is taking pressure off other major highways.

NZTA say the Waterview Connection is taking pressure off other major highways.

Gliddon said while it's early days yet, there appears to have been a redistribution of traffic demand from SH1 to SH20 and SH16 - meaning good news for commuters on those routes.

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For instance this has meant shorter travel times between the CBD and Papakura in both directions during inter peak and afternoon-peak hours, he said.

While the NZTA was still collecting data, anecdotal evidence has shown reduced travel times on commuters' usual routes, especially travel to and from the airport, Gliddon said. 

"We've seen consistent reductions in traffic volumes across arterial routes: this appears to be across a large area of the isthmus and right across the day".

One of NZTA's key aims for the long-awaited Waterview Tunnel was to provide a more efficient link between the port and airport, to support growth and reduce the cost of doing business. 

It appears to be working: freight businesses have reported they're saving on average 40 minutes on a round trip from the wharf to the airport. 

"These travel time savings are great news not only for commuters but also for business productivity, because these improved travel times mean cost savings for hundreds of businesses," Gliddon said. 

The Waterview Connection proved itself as an alternative route on Friday, after an incident on SH1 caused heavy congestion.

NZTA advised commuters to use SH20 instead, resulting in an increase in traffic using the tunnel. 

"We would usually expect an incident like this to have caused greater delays than it did," Gliddon said. 

Not everyone is convinced, however. 

Some commuters have reported getting stuck in heavy traffic flows around the entry and exit to the tunnels, clogging up the Northwestern motorway.

Gliddon said the first week had gone "very smoothly," but traffic volumes have been slightly lower across the motorway network as a result of school and university holidays.

Though the Waterview Connection wasn't designed to remove peak time congestion, it has provided a better balance in morning peak-hour travel times across the network compared with May, he said. 

It's been relative smooth-sailing in the tunnel so far, despite a few breakdowns and people running out of petrol. 

NZTA monitors the tunnel 24-hours a day, and have a special incident response team on-call to assist, in an effort to keep traffic moving. 

Opening such a large piece of transport infrastructure - the Waterview Connection is New Zealand's largest, and most ambitious roading project - means travel patterns will change. 

Heavy traffic and queues are still expected for the next few weeks, as people find their way and work out what the best route is for them, Gliddon said. 


 - Stuff


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