Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has announced that the government will undertake detailed planning of two possible locations for a new Lower Thames Crossing.
The decision comes as the Department for transport (DfT) publishes its response to the public consultation on location options, which generated more than 5,700 responses.
In December the government announced that it would discard one of three locations in the consultation and work on the remaining alternatives; ‘option A’, close to the existing crossing, and ‘option C’, connecting the A2 and M2 to the M25 via the A13.
The decision has now been taken to develop and appraise route options in detail at each location before choosing the site of the new crossing. This will not delay the delivery of a future scheme, but will allow the Highways Agency to assess the effect of the new remote payment system, called ‘Dart Charge’, which will improve driving conditions at the existing Dartford-Thurrock crossing after it is introduced from October.
Even with the introduction of Dart Charge, it is still expected that by the middle of the next decade traffic levels will be greater than the capacity of the existing crossing and the surrounding road networks will be congested – confirming the need for a new crossing.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “As part of the M25 orbital route around London, the Dartford Crossing is a crucial part of the country’s strategic road network.
“We are committed to a new Lower Thames Crossing, but whichever location is chosen, it will have a big impact on people in the area and we must make the right decision. This work will not delay the delivery of the crossing but allows us to choose the best option for local people and the region’s economy, so that it helps boost transport links and economic growth.”
The work will show the range of possible routes at either location and identify their economic, environmental and social impacts, as well as costs.
Malcolm Bingham, the Freight Transport Association’s head of road network management policy, said: “Once again the DfT’s announcement today brings us no closer to building the much needed new Lower Thames Crossing. Congestion needs tackling now, and this appraisal appears to add further delay to the process building of the crossing. There is absolutely no doubt that improving capacity and easing congestion at Dartford is essential in the longer term and while the introduction of free flow tolling in October will bring FTA members recognise the need for a longer term solution.
“FTA has consulted with our members at length on the issue of what the best crossing would be. As a result it was widely considered that Option C would bring the most benefits to the freight industry, and would help tackle congestion at Dartford, and therefore we feel that today’s announcement is simply slowing down the process.”