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Construction of NZ’s first ‘smart motorway’ ramping up in the New Year

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It’s New Zealand’s busiest section of road south of the Bombay Hills, and major works are ramping up to relieve some of Wellington’s peak congestion problems on State Highway 1 and the surrounding road network.

It’s New Zealand’s busiest section of road south of the Bombay Hills, and major works are ramping up to relieve some of Wellington’s peak congestion problems on State Highway 1 and the surrounding road network.  

Wellington Highway Manager Rod James says the ‘smart motorway’ project between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay combines two elements: physical construction works, and introducing a smart, modern approach to peak traffic management. And while commuters will face some slower speeds on short sections while the project is being built, they can look forward to an easier, more free-flowing experience when the project is finished.

The three kilometre section of highway between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay carries around 90,000 vehicles every day, and the  Transport Agency’s $50 million, 18 month upgrade will increase capacity and reduce congestion on this extremely busy section of highway. It will also ease pressure on surrounding roads such as Hutt Road and Thorndon Quay, the primary bus and cycling route through this area.

When completed this work will making journey times more reliable, improve road safety, and creating New Zealand’s first ‘smart motorway’

A smart motorway is one that is actively monitored and managed by traffic operators through a network of sensors, cameras, and speed and lane control signs. Once the project is finished, lane control signs and speed limits will be actively controlled by the Wellington Traffic Operations Centre, a 24/7 facility jointly managed by the Transport Agency, Wellington City Council, Hutt City Council, and Greater Wellington. 

This approach has been applied successfully overseas, particular in the UK and USA, but this will be the first application in New Zealand.

What’s happening:

The additional northbound lane will be created within the existing motorway footprint, and emergency stopping bays will be provided.

Initial work preparing the off-highway area for new gantries has already begun.  From January the 5th, the ‘on-road’ work will get underway, including installing a narrower but even safer concrete median barrier.

Over this time, speed limits will be reduced to 70km/h for stretches of motorway of around a kilometre long. Once work is finished on each section, crews will move to the next section. This work will continue until March 2016. Motorists will be required to comply with posted speed limits at all times.

Mr James says the speed restriction is necessary because constructing the new barriers will constrain the road space slightly, making it too narrow for a safe 100km/h speed limit.

Mr James says when traffic is free flowing, the lower speeds are expected to increase journey times slightly. But during peak times, the speed restriction is unlikely to affect journey times significantly because the average speed during these times tends to be around 70km/h or less. Traffic operators will be monitoring traffic flows and take action to minimise disruption if necessary.

“As the project ramps up, we’ll be doing everything we can to keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible,” says Mr James. “Drivers will need to follow the traffic signs to ensure everyone gets to their destination safely and as soon as possible. Given the scale of the work, some journeys may take a little longer, but the end result will lead to a much better commuting experience, and we’re asking the public to bear with us while we make this happen”.

“Converting this section of SH1 to a smart motorway will help us to make the best use out of our existing infrastructure. Once the project is finished, the motorway will enter a new phase that will bring it in line with similar motorways in the United States and Britain.  It will cease to be a static piece of infrastructure, but rather a dynamic, intelligent transport corridor that will use the latest technology to actively manage journeys to get the best traffic flow possible.”

Mr James says a public information campaign will be starting in the new year to ensure that everyone using this road is well informed about the changes throughout the work, as the new systems are introduced, and on what driving on a smart motorway means for them. He says that while the additional lane is only for northbound traffic at this stage, the development and operation of the smart motorway will eventually improve journeys for travellers in both directions.

Mr James says that freeing up congestion on this stretch of State Highway 1 will also benefit public transport users and cyclists.  

“Improving flows onto State Highway 1 at Aotea Quay will help to move traffic off Thorndon Quay and Hutt Road, reducing traffic on this important cycling route, and making it more reliable for the many bus journeys through this area out of Wellington’s centre.”

The project will also deliver economic benefits through improved freight access to the port and adjacent rail and road freight hubs.

“A more productive motorway means a more productive port. This will help to grow our economy by making the Capital more competitive as a commercial freight hub.”

The project is the next section of the Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance to get underway, which aims to improve north-south travel throughout the Wellington region for users of all forms of transport. This includes Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway, and follows other recent investments in the rail system, including the replacement of the metropolitan rail fleet with new Matangi trains.

More information about the Ngauranga to Aotea Quay project can be found at  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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