The 50th anniversary of the opening of the west bore tunnel at the Dartford Crossing has been marked today (Monday 18 November).
The opening of the first bore at midday on 18 November 1963 paved the way for what is today the busiest links on the national motorway network.
From the initial estimates of two million vehicles crossing each year it is now used annually by some 50 million.
Roads Minister Robert Goodwill said: “The Dartford Crossing has proved to be a vital link on the M25 and a great investment in the economy, helping nearly 1.5 billion vehicles cross the river Thames over the past 50 years.
“It continues to bring huge benefits to the economy and with these benefits comes demand. The Government is committed to doing all we can to ease traffic flow and improve journeys for the future.”
Simon Jones, Highways Agency regional director, added: “With tens of thousands of drivers relying on the crossing every day, it is vital that we keep the tunnels and bridge flowing. We understand the importance this route has for the local and national economy and have a team of operators and traffic officers who work around the clock to keep traffic moving.”
The west bore was built at a cost of £13 million; when traffic volumes increased above the initial estimates of two million vehicles a year a second tunnel was constructed which opened in 1980 at a cost of £45 million. When the M25 was completed in 1986, the tunnels provided a vital link in the national road network.
As traffic grew to regularly exceed the maximum design capacity of 65,000 vehicles per day the Queen Elizabeth II bridge was constructed and opened in 1991.
Today’s crossing was designed to handle 135,000 vehicles per day but it is not unusual for 160,000 to occur. In October 2014 a different, remote payment system will come into operation to reduce congestion and ease traffic flow. New technology and changes to the road layout will mean drivers will no longer stop at the crossing barriers to pay the crossing charge, but will be able to pay the crossing charge through a variety of methods including telephone, text, online and at retail outlets. Pre-paid accounts which qualify for discounted journeys will also be available.
West bore facts
• The tunnel is 1,430 metres long and has a diameter of 8.6 metres
• 28 emergency telephones are provided in the case of any breakdowns or incidents
• The control room monitor conditions using seven CCTV cameras
• Three pedestrian cross-passages connect the two tunnels in the event of an evacuation.