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Dartford Crossing looks to the future after 55 years

PUBLISHED: 15:25 23 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:25 23 November 2018

The east tunnel is around 11 metres wide, though when the new Lower Thames Crossing opens it will be 16 metres wide. Picture: Highways England

The east tunnel is around 11 metres wide, though when the new Lower Thames Crossing opens it will be 16 metres wide. Picture: Highways England

Archant

With plans for a brand new Lower Thames Crossing between Kent, Thurrock and Essex midway through public consultation, the original Dartford Tunnel is quietly marking its 55th anniversary.

The original Dartford Tunnel opened to traffic on November 18 1963 – 55 years ago – and has since been used to make 1.5 billion journeys, a figure which grows by around 155,000 each day.

Although it has been added to over the years, with a second tunnel opening in May 1980 and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge opening in October 1991, the Dartford Crossing is still the only road crossing of the River Thames east of London.

Highways England is currently seeking views on proposals for a new Lower Thames Crossing – which will provide an additional route over the Thames from 2027.

David Manning, development director for the Lower Thames Crossing, said: “At 55 years old, Dartford Crossing remains a vital piece of national infrastructure, having provided decades of service to the country.

“However, being the only way to get across the Thames east of London, it carries more traffic than it was ever designed for – leading to regular delays.

“This anniversary co-insides with our public consultation for the Lower Thames Crossing, a new route across the Thames connecting Kent, Essex and Thurrock. We want everyone to get involved and help us shape our plans and maximise the benefits, a transformational project of this size can deliver.”

The existing Dartford Crossing is designed to carry up to 135,000 vehicles a day, although it regularly carries more than 180,000, with that number increasing every year.

Keeping it running is a 24/7 operation, and involves major maintenance and a regular inspection programme.

In recent years the two Dartford Tunnels have been fully refurbished with new lighting, ventilation and fire suppression systems that significantly improve safety standards.

Virtually all the work has been carried out overnight or at weekends, while keeping the Crossing open to traffic.

The multi-billion pound Lower Thames Crossing would nearly double road capacity across the river Thames and almost halve northbound journey times at Dartford Crossing.

The 14.5-mile route connecting Gravesham in Kent and Thurrock in Essex is expected to reduce traffic at Dartford by 22pc with 14 million fewer vehicles using it every year.

It will almost halve the morning peak average journey times between M25 junctions 1b and 31 from nine minutes to just five.

A consultation on the latest proposals – which aim to maximise the project’s huge benefits – is currently underway.

It ends on Thursday, December 20. People can find out more and give their feedback at www.lowerthamescrossing.co.uk/haveyoursay.

Additionally, 60 events are being held between October 10 and December 20 across Kent, Thurrock and Essex for residents, businesses and communities to ask questions and provide their views.

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