26 Jan 2009

Congestion on toll road unsatisfactory - PM

6:38 pm on 26 January 2009

Prime Minister John Key says the traffic congestion on the opening day of the country's newest road is unsatisfactory.

The $365 million northern gateway toll road opened on Sunday morning with queues of traffic later in the day turning the 7.5km stretch into an hour-long journey.

An estimated 20,000 vehicles travelled along the road, which bypasses Orewa, to State Highway 1 north of Auckland.

On Monday evening, traffic was flowing smoothly in time for holidaymakers returning home from Auckland Anniversary Weekend.

However, Mr Key says until there is an extension of at least three lanes through to Warkworth or Wellsford there will continue to be problems.

Mr Key says the Government has committed to that extension and has told Transport Minister Steve Joyce to get on with it.

Mr Joyce says problems with the toll road were predictable, but cannot be solved overnight. He says the road needs to be extended further north to Warkworth, where much of the traffic leaves the road.

Mr Joyce says the previous Government did not advance plans for the section from Puhoi to Warkworth and they have to be brought forward as quickly as possible.

Mr Joyce says he hopes to make an announcement about large roading projects later this year.

First electronic toll road

The New Zealand Transport Agency says the northern gateway route is the first fully electronic toll road in New Zealand.

There are no toll booths, and motorists pay either before travel, or within three days after using the road, by setting up an account, paying online or via a call centre.

Drivers can also pay at two stop points at either end of the toll road.

More than 5000 accounts have already been opened through the internet.

Fees will be $2 for cars and light utilities and $4 for heavy vehicles. However on Sunday and Monday, the first two days the road is open, travel is free.

For those who do not want to use the toll road, there are free alternative routes on the Hibiscus Coast Highway and State Highway 16 from Wellsford in Northland and Auckland.

The route, which has cost $365 million, is the first stretch of State Highway 1 to be tolled since paying to use the Auckland harbour bridge ceased in the 1980s.

The opening was two months ahead of schedule. Tolls are not being charged on the road until midnight on Monday.