The transport secretary has given the green light to a new crossing beneath the River Thames, claiming it will unlock billions of pounds worth of economic benefit and create thousands of jobs.
The planned route will run from the M25 near North Ockendon, cross the A13 at Orsett before crossing under the Thames east of Tilbury and Gravesend. A new link road will then take traffic to the A2 near Shorne, close to where the route becomes the M2.
It is expected to carry 4.5 million heavy goods vehicles in its first year.
The new route was identified by the majority of nearly 47,000 respondents to a consultation on a new lower Thames crossing as the best solution for reducing traffic and congestion at the Dartford Crossing and for boosting the economy by improving links to London and the Channel ports.
A further £10 million will be used to improve traffic flow at and around the existing crossing as well as studying ways to further tackle congestion. This will include a wide-ranging investigation into options to cut ‘rat-running’ through Dartford and Thurrock.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “The new lower Thames crossing, and other improvements in and around Dartford and Thurrock announced today, will further strengthen our economy while also creating thousands of jobs.
“Our £23 billion investment into our roads is already making a difference, with schemes being completed across the country, including the M1 Catthorpe junction and A556 at Knutsford, cutting journey times for millions of motorists.
“The schemes announced today not only show we are taking decisions, we are planning upgrades and we are completing roads – making the lives of millions of motorists better.”
In addition to the Lower Thames Crossing, the Government is investing a further £66m to widen the A13 Stanford-le-Hope bypass from two to three lanes. This will help create more than 4,000 jobs and unlock the development of hundreds of new houses, and improve links to Tilbury and new London Gateway ports. This investment is part of a £78.85m Thurrock Council project scheduled to be complete by the end of 2019.
Christian Brodie, chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is excellent news for Kent and Essex and will have a significant economic impact. The investments announced will strengthen the resilience of our UK and European connections – imperative as we now move towards Brexit.
“However, the benefits go far beyond Kent and Essex. With the current Dartford Crossing already operating at capacity and freight traffic continuing to grow, the new crossing will also support the government’s wider economic aspirations for the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.”
Highways England will be responsible for delivering the crossing, which will see a new tunnel constructed, easing pressure on the existing Dartford Crossing – currently the only road crossing of the River Thames east of London.
“The decision for a new crossing east of Gravesend and Tilbury is underpinned by years of studies, assessments and careful consideration of the record breaking response to our 2016 consultation,” said Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan.
“As we progress there will be further consultation and opportunities to be part of shaping the detail for the area, now and for future generations.”
The 13-mile route will cost up to £6.2bn and increase capacity for vehicles crossing the Thames east of London by 70%.
Around 55 million journeys are made each year on the Dartford Crossing, six million more than it was designed for, and it suffers from closures due to incidents almost daily.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Whilst it is motorists who account for the majority of the journeys at the Dartford Crossing, the need for another link across the Thames is being driven in large part by the rapid rise in freight traffic and the expansion of the Channel ports.
“The requirement for extra road capacity between Kent and Essex will already be well understood by long-suffering users of the existing crossing. However, planners will also have had an eye on official figures which predict that traffic volumes on our motorways and major roads could increase by 60% by 2040.
“Now that this long-awaited decision has been made, drivers will be keen to know when today’s promise of shovels in the ground will actually deliver the capacity needed to ensure safe and reliable journeys.”