The northbound lanes of Auckland Southern Motorway (State Highway 1) have been re-opened by the NZ Transport Agency, 17 hours ahead of schedule and traffic has now been switched to the new northbound Newmarket Viaduct.
The motorway was closed between the Market Road off-ramp and the Gillies Avenue on-ramp at 5pm yesterday (Saturday 28 January) and was due to re-open by 8am tomorrow after the completion of necessary work to switch motorway traffic lanes on to the new viaduct. The green light to reopen the motorway came just before three o'clock this afternoon and followed a detail inspection of the viaduct to satisfy the NZTA that it was safe to use.
"We're delighted to be able to deliver this latest improvement to the Auckland motorway network early for the benefit of the city's drivers," says the NZTA's acting State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Steve Mutton. "The continuing support this project receives from drivers is fantastic. It has allowed the NZTA and its partners on the Newmarket Viaduct replacement project to complete their work hours earlier than planned and this afternoon's opening is a very fitting 'thank you' from us."
The closed section of motorway is one of the busiest on the Auckland network, and carries an average 65,000 vehicles on Sundays.
Mr Mutton says concerns of heavy congestion triggered by the closure were not realised as drivers heeded NZTA advice to avoid the closed section of motorway and neighbouring arterial roads.
"Traffic flowed pretty smoothly throughout the day with minimal delays. We were aiming to reduce traffic by about 50 percent and its looks like it was as high as 75-80 percent - that is an amazing result and again demonstrates the high levels of support we get from drivers," Mr Mutton says.
Mr Mutton says the NZTA also welcomed the co-operation from Kiwi Rail and Auckland Transport, who deferred electrification work on the southern rail line, which runs through Newmarket, this weekend to give Aucklanders another travel option during the closure.
During the closure, a team of 150 worked overnight and during today to switch northbound motorway lanes on to the new viaduct, and to "slide" a 800 tonne lifting gantry off the new viaduct on to the old northbound structure. Shifting the gantry from one viaduct to the other took two-and-a-half hours, and was completed at four o'clock this morning.
Mr Mutton praised the NZTA's project partners - Leighton Contractors, Fulton Hogan, Beca, VSL, URS, Tonkin & Taylor, and Boffa Miskell - for their skills and teamwork during the closure.
"This is a challenging project constructing a new viaduct surrounded by one of the busiest sections of motorway in New Zealand. The innovation and expertise shown on this project has kept any disruption to drivers to an absolute minimum."
The closure was lifted after a detailed inspection to assure the NZTA that the motorway switch on to the new viaduct was safe for drivers.
The new viaduct replaces the one opened 46 years ago in 1966. It is seismically stronger, will have wider lanes, and will be quieter than the old one.
Today's opening marks the completion of the third of four stages for the $215m project. The new southbound viaduct was opened in September 2010. Its opening was followed by the removal of the old southbound lanes to make room for the new northbound viaduct. The final stage of the project involves the removal of the old northbound viaduct, which will be completed later this year.
The project will also replace the Dilworth Road footbridge, which spans the motorway immediately south of the viaduct.
This weekend's work at Newmarket closes the latest chapter in an extensive programme of NZTA works to improve Auckland's transport system. The viaduct is located at the southern end of the Central Motorway Junction (CMJ) . At the northern end of the CMJ, the NZTA earlier this summer opened the Victoria Park tunnel for northbound motorway traffic and reconfigured the two-way Victoria Park flyover to carry four lanes of southbound traffic.
"When we complete all our programme of works later this year on this critical section of motorway, there will be less congestion and drivers will have more reliable and safer journeys," Mr Mutton says.