Auckland's $340 million Victoria Park Tunnel was officially opened this morning (Saturday 29 October) three months ahead of schedule by Prime Minister John Key.
The project, constructed by the NZ Transport Agency to ease congestion on one of the busiest sections of the city’s motorway network, is the first of the Government’s seven Roads of National Significance to be completed.
The project will help boost economic growth, improve travel times and provide safer journeys through central Auckland with the addition of three new three lanes for northbound traffic on State Highway 1,
At the ribbon cutting celebration, Mr Key was accompanied by the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, the Mayor of Auckland, Len Brown, and representatives from the NZTA and its project partners.
Two of the tunnel’s three lanes will open to traffic on Monday, 14 November. The NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker, says over the next two weeks the agency will carry out extensive testing of the tunnel’s operating systems.
“The tunnel will be used by between 55,000 to 60,000 vehicles every day. It has been built to the highest international safety standards, but these tests are essential so that we can be certain for the safety of drivers that all systems will perform reliably if there is an emergency.”
The tunnel lanes also need to be connected with State Highway 1, and Mr Parker says timing will be critical for this necessary work.
“Work needs to be done at the weekend when traffic volumes are lighter to minimise motorway delays, and the weather must be dry or we will not be able to complete the connections,” he says.
The tunnel’s third lane will open next March.
Mr Parker says drivers will benefit from significant travel time savings when both Vic Park and the nearby Newmarket viaduct replacement project are completed next year. Victoria Park is the northern gateway to the Central Motorway Junction (CMJ), and the Newmarket Viaduct its southern gateway. A daily average traffic flow of 150,000 vehicles makes the CMJ the country’s busiest sections of motorway.
“Improvements at both ends of the CMJ will make Journey times more reliable and safer, and help reduce Auckland’s annual bill for traffic congestion, estimated at $1billion.
“Serious delays here, particularly during the morning and evening traffic peaks, are costing businesses dearly. And that, in turn, is costing Auckland in terms of its international reputation as a city and region that’s good to invest in and to do business with,” Mr Parker says.
Today’s ribbon cutting has been followed by a public open day, and 17,000 people have registered to walk through the 450 metre-long tunnel.
Public interest in the inner city tunnel has been tremendous and numbers have had to be restricted for reasons of safety, says Mr Parker.
“Constructing a complex project like this in the middle of a city is never easy, and the open day is our way of saying “thank you” to the community for all the support they have given us,” he adds.
The tunnel’s opening is the first step in the staged completion of the broader Victoria Park Tunnel project, which also includes motorway widening through St Marys Bay and reconfiguration of the Victoria Park flyover for four lanes of southbound traffic.
“When we open the tunnel we will close the northbound lanes on the Victoria Park flyover. This will enable work to start to reconfigure the flyover for southbound traffic – the current northbound lanes heading south to Newmarket and beyond and the current southbound lanes heading off SH1 to the CBD, the Port and the Northwestern Motorway,” Mr Parker says.
The flyover is due to open in this new configuration on Monday, 9 January. It will be preceded by an extensive information campaign to educate drivers about the new motorway layout and their need to get into the correct lane for their destination before the flyover or risk ending up in the wrong place.
Mr Parker says all additional northbound capacity will be released in March, when the third lane in the tunnel and a new peak-time lane through St Marys Bay open.
The Victoria Park Tunnel project is being constructed by an alliance comprising the NZTA, Fletcher Construction, Beca, Higgins and Parsons Brinkenhoff.
“The Alliance has to be congratulated for delivering the project ahead of time and on budget,” Mr Parker says. “Not only have they delivered the first tunnel project built in the central city, but have taken extreme care to preserve and renew key parts of Auckland’s heritage like the Rob Roy Hotel, the Logan Campbell Free Kindergarten building and the Jacobs Ladder walkway.
“It’s a project that Aucklanders and our partners can be proud of,” Mr Parker adds.
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