Auckland Harbour Bridge: Commuter chaos for third day, Western Ring Route traffic mounting

Six lanes are now open on Auckland Harbour Bridge after a temporary fix overnight proved successful.

All southbound lanes were closed overnight while the lower half of the damaged strut - compromised due to two truck crashes last Friday - was replaced with new steel.

"This temporary repair allows two extra lanes (one northbound lane and one southbound lane) on the centre span of the bridge to open to traffic. The two outer clip-on lanes are open, which will mean three lanes in each direction," Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) general manager of transport services, Brett Gliddon, explained.

Work was underway early on Wednesday morning to open the third northbound lane on the centre span of the Harbour Bridge. At 8:40am, the NZTA confirmed that three lanes - both northbound and southbound - are now available across the bridge.

Aucklanders are still encouraged to use public transport or consider working remotely as the structure's overall lane capacity remains reduced.

"While this is really good news, even with the temporary strut now in place the bridge is still in a more compromised state than usual," Gliddon said.

In an update at 9:15am, the NZTA confirmed the Curran St northbound on-ramp is now also open.

However, the makeshift solution did little to curb traffic woes for Auckland's commuter belt. Motorists have been encouraged by transport officials to opt for the Western Ring Route via Greenhithe and State Highways 16, 18 and 20 - the only other direct roading connecting the CBD to the northern suburbs - to avoid congestion across the Harbour Bridge.

Yet according to traffic data from 7:20am, travel from Silverdale - a northern suburb - to the city via the Western Ring Route took commuters more than two hours. The journey from Albany - a northern suburb of the North Shore - to Manukau in South Auckland took motorists around two hours and 15 minutes via the Western Ring.

The roughly 20-minute journey from the northern suburb of Silverdale to the city centre was taking motorists around 45 to 50 minutes via State Highway 1 and the Harbour Bridge, according to the NZTA data.

The bridge's southbound lanes were closed overnight as workers installed a temporary strut to allow extra lanes to open on Wednesday.
The bridge's southbound lanes were closed overnight as workers installed a temporary strut to allow extra lanes to open on Wednesday. Photo credit: NZTA

In an update at 8:25am, the NZTA confirmed that southbound delays via State Highway 1 have "fully eased" and congestion via the Western Ring Route has also subsided.

In an update at 7:45am, the NZTA confirmed there was "heavy" congestion on State Highway 1 citybound from Northcote Road, while southbound travel time via the Western Ring Route was "still well over an hour". 

According to the 7:45am data, the commute from Silverdale to the city centre - via the Western Ring Route - was roughly an hour and 20 minutes. Motorists travelling from Albany to Manukau via the Western Ring were in for roughly an-hour-and-a-half journey.

The commute from Manukau to Albany via the Harbour Bridge was roughly an hour, while the journey from Silverdale to the city was roughly 40 minutes.

Overweight and heavy vehicles are currently not permitted to cross the Harbour Bridge, the NZTA reiterated, and drivers are asked to use the Western Ring Route until a permanent solution is installed. 

Locals are slowly getting onboard with public transport as an alternative option, with passenger numbers on the city's bus network increasing by 10-15 percent between Monday and Tuesday. 

Aucklanders are still encouraged to stagger their working hours or work remotely if possible.

"In this temporary configuration, the bridge is still not fully operational, and one lane remains closed each way.  Congestion is still expected on all state highways and local roads and we continue to encourage people to consider working from home if possible," Gliddon said.

"There is still lots of space and capacity on buses and ferries, in particular the Northern Express routes from the North Shore. For customers who need to travel by car, plan ahead, check the journey planner apps and use the Western Ring Route via SH16 and SH18 as an alternative to SH1 and the bridge."

Despite the temporary fix last night, a more permanent solution is still a while away. The NZTA has estimated that replacing the damaged strut could take around five weeks.

Traffic to-and-from the city has been significantly disrupted after gale-force winds toppled two trucks on Friday, causing damage to the structure of the bridge. 

A truck was thrown onto its side when strong winds accelerated to about 127kmh, blocking several centre lanes before the vehicle could be safely removed. A southbound truck was also blown to a tilt simultaneously, hitting the bridge's structure before righting itself.