Friday, August 20, 2021

Government Figures Aim to Build the Case for a New Lower River Thames Crossing

Commercial Vehicle Figures Through Existing M25 Passage Rise Despite Virus
Shipping News Feature

UK – It seems that lockdowns, Brexit and the like simply cannot stop the cash cow juggernaut that is the M25 Dartford Crossing of the Thames. The tunnel/bridge facility has always been a source of irritation to motorists having been promised it would be free to use after various stages of its development were paid for.

Now, according to the government’s own figures, it is clear that despite all the unprecedented restrictions put in place in England, and the hand wringing over restricted supplies from Europe, of late the crossing has been regularly carrying far more traffic than it was designed for and now carries more food and goods than ever before.

Built almost 60 years ago as one, two way, single lane tunnel, it now has a total design capacity of 135,000 vehicles a day through to two, twin lane tunnels and over the four lane bridge, but it carries more than 180,000 on its busiest days. The latest government traffic data highlights that, whilst the measures put in place to manage the Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on traffic levels throughout the UK, traffic has quickly returned to previous levels.

With the changing working and shopping patterns in England, 42% of vehicles using the Dartford Crossing are now goods vehicles, compared with 33% in 2019. The crossing saw its busiest day ever for HGV traffic in December 2020 despite the pandemic's hold. Folllowing the first lockdown in March 2020 traffic levels at Dartford plummeted by 62.5%, from 182,658 in April 2019 to 68,288 on the equivalent day in 2020, however for the majority of 2020 the crossing was operating at or above its design capacity.

These figures of course give further support to the proposed Lower Thames Crossing which we have given updates on as plans developed. These of course will face opposition from a variety of opponents but, unsurprisingly the case for a new crossing nearer to the mouth of the Thames Estuary was supported by Matt Palmer, Executive Director for the Lower Thames Crossing, who said:

”The Covid-19 pandemic has had a momentous impact on every part of our daily lives including when and how we travel. Throughout the pandemic the Dartford Crossing played and continues to play a crucial role in almost everything we do from delivering essential goods to our shelves and our doorsteps, to visiting friends and family or getting to work.

”These figures show the case for the Lower Thames Crossing is stronger than ever, the changes as result of the pandemic although having dramatic impact on traffic more widely, have not impacted the strategic traffic crossing Dartford, this only reinforces how crucial crossing the Thames is to our way of life.

”Despite improvements and 24-hour monitoring, the Dartford crossing is still over design capacity and that inevitably causes congestion and delays. The Lower Thames Crossing would almost double road capacity crossing the Thames east of London, providing a reliable connection that will add billions to the economy. But it also has a more immediate role in the economic recovery from Covid-19 by creating tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of opportunities for local people and businesses in its construction.”

Charges to use the Dartford Crossing are levied using a Dart Charge account and this organisation conducted a survey of business account holders which found that 88% of the 2,299 businesses who responded to the survey support the Lower Thames Crossing. 82% believe that current traffic congestion is a major challenge for their business, and 89% said they would value an alternative road crossing of the River Thames, east of the Dartford Crossing.

The businesses surveyed included household names, major industry and small businesses from across the UK. According to the government’s figures the proposed crossing would almost double road capacity between Kent, Thurrock, Havering and Essex and add billions to the economy by creating a new connection between people and jobs, businesses and customers.

Additionally the authorities reckon it will also play an important role in the region’s recovery from Covid by employing over 22,000 people and upskilling local businesses during its six-year building phase, also creating over 500 hectares of improved habitats for wildlife, as well as new greenspaces for local communities including a community woodland, two new public parks, and over 46 kilometres of new or improved public pathways.

The official line is that it will also ‘build back better by improving air quality across the region’ a completely unexplained statement as the intention is to increase, rather than decrease, the number of vehicles on the roads. Nor is there any mention of objections, such as the possible destruction of the South Essex Wildlife Hospital, the only such facility in the region.

Highways England is in the middle of its Community Impacts Consultation for the Lower Thames Crossing, which runs from 14 July until 8 September, before submitting a Development Consent Order application later this year. If given the green light, construction is expected to start in 2024 and take around six years, with a target opening date between 2029 and 2030.

To give an opinion via the consultation on the development of the new road link click HERE.

Photo: Although the original Dartford Tunnel didn’t open for traffic until 1961, its history goes back a lot further. Here, Leslie Burgin, Minister of Transport from 1937-39, inspects the single tunnel before work was suspended due to the outbreak of war.