Motorists are facing toll charges of more than £2 to use the Blackwall tunnel to fund a new road crossing under the Thames at Silvertown, it emerged today.
Transport for London revealed it plans to bring in road tolls on the existing tunnel, which is currently free, to help pay for the controversial new multi-million pound project.
Boris Johnson’s transport body said the tolls, which would also operate on the new tunnel, would be the “most appropriate” way of funding the link between Thamesmead and Beckton.
They claimed charges were needed on the Blackwall tunnel for the first time to prevent “serious delays” as drivers switched to the free crossing which would share approach roads. Motoring groups warned drivers would be furious at the proposal to bring in charges for the existing crossing.
Paul Watters from the AA said: “It will be hugely controversial because the Blackwall tunnel is the circular route round London, it joins up the North and South circulars, and it’s free at the moment.
“TfL will have to listen very carefully to the views of drivers. We’ve already seen the Western extension of the congestion charge dropped because it was hugely unpopular and I think tolling on the Blackwall tunnel will be as controversial as that.
“We need another crossing, but this will put more pressure on hard-pressed drivers who are already dealing with high fuel prices. In practical terms I think London’s businesses and regular car users are probably not in the mood to pay for Blackwall.”
Green campaigners claimed the new tunnel would cause more air pollution, more noise and worse congestion in East London. TfL set out its plans for a Dartford Tunnel-style charging structure where car drivers would pay £2, vans £2.50 and lorries £5 to use the crossings.
Motorists could face higher charges at rush hour – or travel for free when the traffic volume was low, for example at night.
In its consultation document into the new tunnel, published today, TfL said: “There is currently no funding set aside in TfL’s budget for the major infrastructure projects outlined in this consultation. This means that in order to deliver them we would need to identify a means of paying for them.
“We believe that the most appropriate way to fund the projects would be to charge a toll for using the Silvertown Tunnel and any new crossing linking Thamesmead and Beckton. Tolling would provide a new revenue stream to pay for the crossings, and would ensure that those who benefit most from these new projects – by using them – help to pay for them in return.”
But the document added: “Because the Silvertown Tunnel and the Blackwall Tunnel are located so close to one another and share common approach roads, if the Silvertown Tunnel is built and subject to tolling, the Blackwall Tunnel would also need to be tolled – otherwise there would be serious delays at the Blackwall Tunnel as so much traffic would wish to use it.”
A previous consultation run by TfL earlier in the year did not mention that tolls would be needed to pay for the new crossing.
The Mayor will also come under pressure from green campaigners who claim the plans represent a U-turn after he dropped the idea of a Thames Gateway crossing.
Green Assembly member Darren Johnson said: “The Mayor will please very few people with his announcement that tolls would have to be imposed to pay for a new road across the Thames. Those of us opposed to the Silvertown Crossing because of its dreadful impact on air pollution will remain opposed.
“Moreover, I suspect many of those who were originally in favour of a new road crossing will hate the idea of having to pay tolls on the Blackwall Tunnel. Given there are now far more public transport options for crossing the Thames in East London, there is really no need for a new road crossing.”
Jenny Bates from Friends of the Earth London added: “We simply can’t build our way out of our traffic problems – a new road tunnel and car ferry across the Thames will lead to more congestion, more noise and more air pollution. A world class city like London deserves a modern, clean and efficient transport system – not these outdated and damaging proposals.”
Michele Dix, Managing Director of Planning, said: “We are consulting on proposals for vital new river crossings in east London that would relieve congestion in London and support economic growth.
“Tolling is one option suggested in the consultation as it would provide a new revenue stream to pay for the crossings.
“However this has not been decided. We want to hear people’s views on the river crossing package proposals and how they might be funded.
“There would certainly be no tolling on the Blackwall Tunnel before the proposed Silvertown Crossing was completed, which would be 2021 at the very earliest.”
Source: Evening Standard