Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Freight and Road Haulage Interests Welcome Thames Crossing Plans

United Voice in Favour of a Suitable Tunnel
Shipping News Feature
UK – Highways England has unveiled plans for a new multi-billion pound road link across the River Thames between Essex and Kent in the hope of relieving congestion at the existing Dartford Crossing. Though the removal of toll barriers and the introduction of electronic payments has recently improved traffic flow and journey times at the current crossing, it does not account for the need for increased capacity, which is predicted to rise 41% by 2041 as against the current 50 million crossings a year. News of the plans have been greatly welcomed by both the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

Consultation on the crossing began in May 2013 when three options were announced. These were reduced to two in December 2013, one near the existing Dartford Crossing (known as Option A), and the other linking the M2 motorway with the M25 via the A13 (known as Option C), with a possible further link to the M20 (Option C Variant).

Since then, Highways England has been carrying out detailed work with a wide range of stakeholders to assess the shortlisted options and develop possible routes at each location. This evaluation is now complete, and Highways England is recommending a new road crossing at location C, served by boring tunnel under the river as opposed to a bridge. Roads Minister Andrew Jones said:

“Roads are key to ensuring the nation’s prosperity. As part of our long term economic plan, we are making the biggest investment in roads in a generation. The government is committed to delivering a Lower Thames crossing which will increase capacity and provide better, faster journeys across the Thames. Once complete it could add over £7 billion to the economy by increasing investment and business opportunities, and create over 5,000 new jobs nationally.”

The proposed scheme would run from the western end of the M2, crossing the river just east of Gravesend and Tilbury and joining up with the M25 between junctions 29 and 30. It will be the first new crossing of the Thames east of London since the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened at Dartford 25 years ago. A Highways England consultation seeking public views on the proposals is now underway and will run until Thursday 24 March. Highways England Senior Project Manager, Martin Potts said:

“Our assessments have shown that Location C provides double the economic benefits of Location A as well as a clear alternative route to the Dartford Crossing, reducing congestion and improving resilience of the road network. And by choosing a tunnel rather than a bridge we can minimise the effects of the new road on the environment.”

Both the FTA and the RHA are urging the Government to press ahead with the plans of a new Lower Thames Crossing, also both coming out in favour of Option C. Malcolm Bingham, the FTA’s Head of Road Network Management Policy, says it is vital that a schedule for delivery of the project is put in place to prevent grid-lock on the existing routes, he continued:

“Congestion at the Dartford Crossing is predicted to reach pre-Dart Charge levels by 2020 and the Blackwall Tunnel is a real pinch-point. Congestion needs tackling now and our members want to see plans in place to deal with future development and growth, not just temporary sticking plasters that don’t tackle the real issue. The FTA has consulted at length with its members, who concluded that Option C would bring the most benefits to the freight Industry and help tackle congestion at Dartford. Now this option has been chosen, we look forward to taking the detailed plans to our members once they are published.

“We recognise that a tunnel will have less environmental impact than a bridge but it brings its own challenges for the freight industry. The current Dartford tunnels create delays for all when vehicles with dangerous goods or height and width issues pass through, as they either have to wait to be escorted or ensure they are in the correct approaching lane due to the tunnel’s limitations. We urge Highways England to ensure that construction includes putting in place safety systems to allow these vehicles to move freely through the new tunnel without having to stop.

The RHA said that the proposed new crossing will have the advantage of offering a shorter route to and from the Port of Dover and Channel Tunnel and will give a valuable alternative route in the event of any incidents in the Dartford area. RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett, added:

“For the road haulage industry, time is money and this proposal comes as good news to members of the RHA. The crossing between Essex and Kent represents a vital, cost-effective route that is heavily utilised by the haulage industry. There is a desperate need to increase capacity on this route, as anyone who uses the Dartford crossing regularly will know, the congestion created is a daily burden for the UK economy.

“Therefore we are pleased to see that the consultation paper acknowledges that the new route, opening in around 2025, is likely to lift the local and national economy by facilitating the speedy transportation of goods, reducing congestion, curbing greenhouse gas and other emissions, as well as bringing some road safety benefits.

Photo: Techniques and skills learnt whilst excavating the huge London Crossrail project have ensured that creating a new tunnel beneath the Thames will hold few fears.