Britain’s longest road tunnel to feature free-flow charging system

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Highways England’s planned £2bn Lower Thames Crossing will have a free-flow charging system, where drivers do not need to stop but pay remotely, similar to that of the Dartford Crossing.

The UK government-owned agency has tendered for what will be its largest-ever contract, which will include Britain’s longest road tunnel, a 4.2km-long twin tunnel under the River Thames.

There will also be traffic regulation measures that prohibit use by pedestrians, low-powered motorcycles, cyclists, horse riders and agricultural vehicles.

In its first year, more than 27 million drivers are forecast to use the Lower Thames Crossing, providing much-needed relief at the existing Dartford Crossing, which was designed for 135,000 vehicles a day, but reportedly sees 180,000 a day use it.

Matt Palmer, Lower Thames Crossing executive director, said: “The scheme will relieve congestion at the Dartford Crossing by providing [23km of] a new free flowing road [of three lanes in both directions], almost doubling road capacity across the Thames and supporting sustainable local and regional economic growth.”

One of the aims of the Lower Thames Crossing is to relieve the congested Dartford Crossing and approach roads, and improve their performance by providing free-flowing, north-south capacity

According to Highways England, work on the new crossing could start in early 2022. At 16m wide, the tunnels – one for southbound traffic, the other for northbound traffic – will reportedly be some of the largest bored tunnels in the world.

The scope of the scheme also includes portal buildings, approach roads and the tunnel systems.

The agency, which is responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads, said that it expects three applicants will be shortlisted to move forward into a competitive dialogue stage.

The tunnels and approaches contract is the first of the three main works contacts for the scheme. Following this deal will be the Roads North and the A2/M2 contracts, which are expected to be announced early next year.

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