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A picture of Meola Road in its current closed form.
Photo: Dempsey Wood Civil Limited/Auckland Transport.

SocietyJanuary 19, 2024

Why is Auckland’s Meola Road closed this summer?

A picture of Meola Road in its current closed form.
Photo: Dempsey Wood Civil Limited/Auckland Transport.

A renovation to this key inner-west Auckland arterial road was set to begin in late 2022, so why is it affecting traffic now in 2024? 

What even is Meola Road?

Nestled between Point Chevalier and Westmere, Meola Road is a critical arterial road in Auckland’s inner-west and a thoroughfare that brings the local community together. Amenities along its course include popular dog park Meola Reef, Seddon Fields (home of the Western Springs Football Club), Motat’s aviation displays, and bus stops frequented by local school kids. Nearby are other community staples, like six schools and kindergartens, Western Springs Park and stadium, Tapac, the zoo, a scout hall, Motat proper, and Te Mahurehure marae. 

Why does it need work done?

Despite its proximity to family-friendly amenities, Meola Road is notoriously dangerous. Last year, councillor Josephine Bartley likened it to a highway, a description Radha Patel, the 2023 student representative on Western Springs College’s board, agrees with. “People use it like a second motorway trying to get onto the Harbour Bridge,” she explains. “It’s odd, because you have [reduced] speed zones around schools but Meola Road is so close to schools, and there is no speed zone around there, so it is quite dangerous.” She believes that Meola is unsafe for anyone outside a car, in particular “cycling down that road is pretty scary”. She and her fellow Western Springs College students have advocated for improved safety on Meola Road since 2019. 

This motorway-esque arterial was constructed atop a rubbish dump in the 1930s – without a significant bottom-up renovation since. Recently, Meola Road has shown its age, in places sinking into the old dump. When it flooded badly during Auckland’s devastating deluges last year, Meola Road’s problems were on full display. 

An Auckland Transport brochure explaining the road's necessary rebuild, and a photo of two items recently uncovered from the old dump.
An Auckland Transport brochure explaining the road’s rebuild, and a photo of two items recently uncovered from the old dump. (Images: Auckland Transport; Dempsey Wood Civil Limited)

So what is Auckland Transport doing?

On December 14, the middle section of Meola Road was closed to general car traffic so it could be rebuilt from the foundations up. All in all, 840m of the 1,590m road will be completely rebuilt, and the rest will be renovated extensively. This first stage of construction is expected to finish in early February. From January 22, the eastern section of Meola will be closed for rebuilding, which is expected to take two months. After that, the final works will be completed on the western section of this Auckland arterial – which once again is set to take two months. (During construction, Meola Road, the dog park, the football club, and Motat remain open for bikes, dogs, joggers, pedestrians and scooters.)

The most expensive upgrades along Meola Road include rebuilding its foundations to raise it above the floodplain, undergrounding the power lines, and upgrading the stormwater/wastewater pipes. Flood mitigation enhancements are particularly important, as proved during 2023’s floods. Other cheaper infrastructure improvements (which, compared to their cost, received outsized media and political attention) include bike, bus and pedestrian improvements. Many local cyclists, public transport users and walkers are school kids. 

A photo showing Meola Road under construction with heavy machinery.
The reconstruction of Meola Road (Photo: Dempsey Wood Civil Limited)

Official transport data outlines that tamariki cycle and walk to school more here than almost anywhere else in Aotearoa (to the tune of 41% of Western Springs College pupils), plus they frequent the busy bus routes along Meola Road. The upgrades with akonga in mind will provide expanded sidewalks, a bi-directional cycleway, new and relocated bus stops, trees/landscaping, and six new raised crossings. Raised crossings were particularly sought after by locals, as a student-led petition for their installation garnered 2,657 signatures. When addressing Auckland Council in 2022, Patel said, “We can’t wait for a tragedy to happen before we start valuing and prioritising the lives of students and our community.” She hopes Meola Road’s renovation gets people “away from single-occupancy cars to start using other modes of transport”. After all, Patel says for rangatahi like herself, “everything ties back to climate change – here in Auckland transport accounts for most emissions.”

Some of the kids who bike to school in this neighbourhood are the members of Point Chevalier Primary School's bike train, picture here in their matching high-vis gear.
Some of the kids who bike to school in this neighbourhood are the climate-minded members of Point Chevalier Primary School’s bike train, pictured here. (Photo: Bike Pt Chev)

Is Meola the only road getting renovated?

The Meola Road works are only one part of the wider Inner-West Projects, which will also renovate Point Chevalier Road and Great North Road – the latter receiving a full-streetscape package similar to Meola Road’s, including underground works and significant upgrades for bikes, buses and pedestrians. After multiple public consultations, it became clear that local businesses and residents supported the IWPs, including the Karangahape Road Business Association. In a 2023 press release, the KBA explained that the potential of Karangahape Road’s 2020-2021 streetscape renovation won’t be maximised until the IWPs are constructed.   

Despite clear community support, getting the IWPs under way took the combined effort of 50+ local organisations and schools. They were opposed by several vocal locals (who protested past projects) allied with powerful politicians like mayor Wayne Brown and Waitematā councillor Mike Lee (who was then an Auckland Transport board member). In October 2022, one of Lee’s first official acts as the local representative was to ask the mayor to can the IWPs, which were then shovel-ready pending funding approval – and the mayor was happy to oblige given his well publicised budgetary constraints. However, Lee’s wish was only granted for the Grey Lynn and Westmere sections (the only exception being the Garnet Road shops, which will still be upgraded). 

Only renovating Point Chevalier and Great North Road, and not Grey Lynn plus Westmere, creates a glaring safety black hole in the middle of this critical route between Auckland’s CBD and inner-west. At a 2023 Waitematā Local Board meeting, Grey Lynn local John Constable said, “In any other context, proposing to build two ends of a route with no plan to complete the middle would be utterly ludicrous. And yet we are told not to expect a safe and continuous route any time soon.” On behalf of all nearby schools, Point Chevalier School principal Stephen Lethbridge called on Auckland Transport to bridge this gap. 

The proposed route.
The proposed full IWP route. The light blue, pink and orange sections in the middle are not being constructed due to budgetary constraints. Note the well overdue original construction dates. If the original plan proceeded without delay, Great North Road should have been finished by now. (Image: AT)

While Lee ultimately came around to support the Point Chevalier renovations, citing overwhelming local support, the delay he instigated explains why Meola Road is closed this summer when people have time off to enjoy the sun at the dog park or football field, instead of earlier as was initially planned. Despite the delay, many locals are stoked that these works, eight years in the making, are finally taking shape. Speaking about the IWPs generally, Patel says she is excited for when they’re completed. “Then I’ll go experience it for myself, go for a cycle ride with some friends and just check it out. Maybe, depending on what I’m doing, I can campaign harder for the middle bit to be done too.” 

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