Blog: a complete idiot's guide to the new Waterview tunnel
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I feel like, in a desperate attempt to try and cheer up our largely miserable society, New Zealand can be a bit eager when it comes to celebrating things.
Maybe it's our sporting culture shining through, who knows. Regardless, celebrating the opening of a tunnel seems a bit void. Like celebrating All Blacks wins when all the other teams are average anyway.
But while I'm a detractor, I was also there. Mainly because I thought I'd be able to bring my dog, the tickets were free, and because it provided a halfway reasonable excuse to catch up with mates coming in from town.
Sadly, no dogs were allowed, along with a whole host of other OSH-loving requirements. Shoes were required to be “sturdy” and closed. There was to be no smoking. And no “illicit drugs” were allowed, either. Darn.
Ticket allocation was divided into one-hour sessions. The session at the top of the day horribly packed, as you'd expect. It's the session that most media outlets reported from; showing an incredibly dense crowd of people pointing and gasping at, more or less, a hole in the ground.
No, the session my friend and I (the number wavered from four of us to just two. No surprises) was the 1.00pm slot. And while there was still a crowd, it wasn't quite as unavoidable-inappropriate-touching as things had been some hours prior. In total, 20,000 Aucklanders sampled the tunnel on foot over the course of the day. That's what the released number was, anyway.
Labeling something like this as an 'event' seems a bit much, but it had all the trimmings. Security at the front gate were in full force, checking bags and scanning tickets. Scaffolding had been erected to allow us to walk from Hendon Park straight on to the satisfyingly fresh road underneath. I did find myself looking around at all the men and women in hi-viz with radios tucked into their waists, wondering what the point was.
People were taking selfies, too. Selfies at the best of times are a bad idea, let alone for something like the opening of a tunnel. I guess it's nice seeing people being happy. If you're into that kind of thing.
Numbers and facts! The maximum speed in the tunnel is 80km/h, though that can come down at any point deemed necessary via the digital signs that hang from the ceiling. It's 2.4km long each way, with an emergency exit complete with phones planted in the middle every 150m. There are five deluge storage tanks filled with 250m cubed of water hidden in there, in case of a fire.
And it also cost $1.4-billion dollars to build, although that's not in the glossy brochure.
Most of the tech is implanted in the ceiling of the tunnel, leading to a lot of craned necks from our meandering group — as if we were in that psychedelic aquarium portion of Kelly Tarltons where you walk underneath the fish. Except instead of hoping to see stingrays, we hope to see the flat black speed cameras and jet fans.
Yes, there's speed cameras. There's one posted at the entrance to each tunnel, as well as a selection of them dotted in the gantries that hold up the speed-limit signs. They're a bit of a necessity, as the three lanes going each way are surprisingly narrow. Even with no lane-changes permitted once your car's in the tunnel, accidents are probably still inevitable.
The walk itself barely lasted 40 minutes, with us walking down the mouth of the tunnel, turning through one of the emergency exits, and walking back out.
It's expected that the actual opening of the tunnel (you know, for cars) will come at a random date in the imminent future — a 'soft launch’, to borrow a soul-draining term from the corporate world — to ensure that there isn't some giant mountain of people who try and 'be the first to do it'.
Ironically, I'm unlikely to use it more than once or twice a year. It's out of the way for me — awkwardly placed between all of my traditional driving journeys. One does wonder whether it'll make much of an impact at all in mitigating traffic in central and west Auckland at all, given it doesn't actually go towards the central city where most of the ruckus comes from.
Although, it'll make for an exceptional place to take our most audible test cars. We'll stick to 80km/h, of course.