Lower Thames Crossing: the worst possible option
Yesterday it was announced that the preferred route for the “East Thames Crossing”, a tunnel under the Thames east of the current easternmost crossing at Dartford, had been announced. The proposed route branches off the M25 north of the current Thurrock interchange, crosses over the A13 where it meets the spur road to Tilbury docks, crosses the Thames in a bored tunnel east of Gravesend before veering south-west to meet the A2 near a village called Thong (in other words, near the last junction on the A2 before it joins the M2). The consultation considered three other routes, among them a variant on the chosen route with additional improvements to the A229, which links the M2 to the M20 at Maidstone. If any of those options should have been chosen, it should have been that one. However, I responded to the consultation and my preferred route would have been none of those, but a new northbound bridge at Dartford.
The A2 is an important regional main road which links London and the Dartford river crossing (which carries traffic to most of northern and eastern England) to the north Kent towns and the Ramsgate ferry port. The main route into Kent is the M20 corridor, which runs further south and reaches Maidstone, Ashford, the Channel Tunnel and Dover — these being the shortest and fastest links between Britain and the Continent (Ramsgate is preferred by British some transport companies for inbound freight, as stowaways usually attempt to board trucks heading for Calais and the tunnel). Any new road link across the Thames into Kent needs to link to the M20 or else it will be pointless, as any private company investing in the new road will want that extra traffic if the road is to be subject to a toll, which it almost certainly will be. Currently the main link is the A229, a short stretch of dual carriageway whose interchanges with both motorways includes multiple roundabouts; if coming from the A229 onto the M2, you may have to stop at several sets of traffic lights in between. Traffic avoiding delays at the A229 junctions will then clog up alternative roads, such as the (much longer) A249, which links the M20 (and the M25 from the west) with Ramsgate and the freight ferry terminal at Sheerness, and the much slower A228, the much narrower A227 and the A260 from Canterbury to Folkestone. Signs will, of course, continue to point freight traffic heading for the Channel Tunnel and Dover via the M20, but any delays on the M25 at Dartford will result in them diverting onto the new road.
As a truck driver who has to use the Dartford river crossings fairly frequently, I know that the vast majority of the delays are northbound, caused by traffic having to divide to use the two tunnels, trucks having to clear out of lane 2 because it has a 7.5T weight limit, and most of all, the left tunnel (which is now the only tunnel open to traffic joining at junction 1A for the busy south Thames road as well as those leaving at Purfleet) being regularly closed to escort petrol tankers through. All this causes congestion for traffic along that road as well as other local roads, as well as the approach roads to the tunnel itself — the M25 is frequently congested up to 6 miles away, as is the A2. The solution is to build an extra bridge at Dartford; this would require no vehicle to be escorted, no divisions of traffic and no closures. The tunnels could be retained for use when the bridges are closed because of high winds, or used for regular traffic, providing six lanes in each direction.
The preferred route is probably the worst of all the options, not only because of the above but also because it joins the A2 at a right angle rather than continuing on a straight line into the M2. It will almost certainly be financially unviable, requiring taxpayer bailouts for a private toll road, and the cause of tremendous traffic congestion on all the main roads in mid-Kent. It will make driving in that part of the country a whole lot less enjoyable for everyone. It must not go ahead.
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