Five hours of gridlock for 46,000 cars: How one small slip ground Wellington to a halt


A slip on State Highway 2 near the Petone off-ramp disrupted traffic for five hours on Monday.

NZTA Wellington/Supplied

A slip on State Highway 2 near the Petone off-ramp disrupted traffic for five hours on Monday.

The slip that shut down Wellington’s roads on Monday could barely even be considered a slip.

It was at most three wheelbarrow loads of dirt, most of which wasn’t even on the road.

At the site on SH2, there were five orange cones blocking the left lane. Traffic was still able to get through on the right-hand lane, crawling at a snail’s pace.

More than 10 kilometres away, things were moving even slower. At the corner of Boulcott and Willis streets, one driver complained of being stuck in one spot for 20 minutes.

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It took commuter Sophie Jolley half an hour to get 300 metres from The Terrace offramp to Boulcott St.

One commuter on social media claimed it took 4 hours and 40 minutes to get from Wellington to Levin, a journey which normally takes an hour and 15 minutes.

The first reports of the slip came in at 3pm, more than an hour before rush hour was due to start. Almost immediately traffic started backing up and NZTA warned of significant delays.

Traffic was backed up from Lower Hutt to Wellington after the SH2 slip.

Tom Hunt/Stuff

Traffic was backed up from Lower Hutt to Wellington after the SH2 slip.

Within 10 minutes, the traffic jam stretched back four kilometres to the Ngauranga Interchange.

At 3:55pm, contractors closed both lanes in order to start clearing the slip. It only took 10 minutes, but by the time they were finished traffic was stalled all the way to the Terrace Tunnel 10 kilometres away, and along Ngauranga Gorge.

At 4:05pm, NZTA put out an all caps warning for people to “DELAY YOUR TRAVEL” or consider going via Porirua using SH1 and SH58.

For a Hutt-based commuter, that would turn a 15km journey into almost 50km.

It didn’t take long for that route to be overwhelmed. Just 50 minutes later, NZTA warned of significant delays on both routes.

Traffic continued to push back further and further, not just affecting the motorway but bringing the entire CBD to a standstill. Many central city car parks had long lines just to get out onto the road.

At 5:45, almost three hours after the initial slip, things were no better. NZTA had given up offering alternative routes and could only recommend that commuters put off their journey even longer.

A large excavator finished clearing the slip area at 7:05pm, after more than four hours of gridlock. Contractors took longer than expected because the bank alongside the road was threatening to give way and needed to be secured.

Even after the slip was cleared it took some time for traffic to ease. By 8pm, the highway finally returned to normal flow.

In total, as many as 46,000 vehicles were likely affected by the traffic jam, given the average traffic in the area on a weekday.

Hutt South MP Chris Bishop described the traffic as “a shocker”.

He was meant to be at a function in the Hutt at 6pm, but missed it due to traffic reports showing it would take him 110 minutes to get there.

He had heard from several people who took more than three hours to get from Wellington to the Hutt.

“It shows the lack of resilience in the network, one tiny slip and it cuts off the whole Hutt.

Bishop said he was meant to be at a function in the Hutt at 6pm, but missed it due to traffic reports showing it would take him 110 minutes to get there.

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