New East London River Crossing ‘Within 10 Years’

Photo by n.a.

Boris Johnson has pledged a new road tunnel under the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown, with a new ferry between Beckton and Thamesmead.

A river crossing in east London has been sorely needed for some time; congestion in the Rotherhithe and Blackwall tunnels is severe and often exacerbated by breakdowns or accidents in the tunnels which force temporary closure.

Four years after the mayor abandoned plans for a Thames Gateway crossing (would it be uncharitable to suggest that the fact it was originally Ken Livingstone’s idea played a part in its rejection?), proposals for the new tunnel, which will doubtless, like nearly every other transport solution in the last four years, be dubbed the ‘Boris Tunnel’, could see 2,400 vehicles per hour using it in each direction.

Funding could be something of a sticky wicket though. The cable car project relied on private finance which failed to materialise, leaving TfL facing a £60m-shaped hole in their budget until Emirates stepped into the breach and stumped up £36m. The cycle hire scheme relied on Barclays to pepper the city with bikes, not to mention a pretty good sponsorship deal for the bank. The original Thames Gateway bridge looked set to cost in the region of £450m while the tunnel could cost an eye-watering £700m. That’s an awful lot of private funding in these times of austerity and we’re not sure TfL’s pockets are that deep.

The issue of the approach roads to the proposed tunnel site at either end is another obvious hurdle; 853 states in no uncertain terms that the A102 from the south is already over-capacity and, from the east, the A13 is more or less stationary from Rainham through to Barking from 6.30am and from Canning Town to Barking from 4pm.

With pressure on the mayor to improve London’s air quality, not everyone is going to welcome a new road. Green Party AM Darren Johnson said:

“The London mayor can’t claim that air pollution or climate change are a priority whilst proposing to build a traffic-generating road like this Silvertown Tunnel. This tunnel is a straightforward attempt to double capacity around the Blackwall Tunnel and will generate extra traffic all over east London”

Will it generate traffic though? If people are driving in via east London then it’s reasonable to assume that they’re not just doing it out of a desire to join the end of a very long traffic jam. Creating an extra crossing is unlikely to automatically encourage people with a perfectly adequate public transport alternative to drive, so the challenge would be ensuring traffic approaching all three tunnels does not do so from the same roads. If the aim is to keep traffic flowing, thereby reducing the extra emissions caused by vehicles being less fuel-efficient while stationary, then just sticking an extra tunnel in isn’t going to help.

Drivers of delivery vehicles clearly don’t have the option of hopping on public transport or cycling, yet the assumption that anyone driving into London is doing so because they can’t be bothered to get public transport or don’t care about the environmental impact seems to persist. Trying to pretend that traffic doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist in London is short-sighted and fails to recognise that transport in and for the city needs to be considered as a whole rather than one section of users versus another section, or worse, used to score political points.

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  • http://twitter.com/mattsmith24 Matt Smith

    Great. So… instead of a bridge where a crossing is needed, costing half – we’ve got another tunnel costing twice as much in the same place as the Blackwall tunnel? Seriously – does this make sense to anyone?! Has anyone in City Hall ever been to London?

    If you’re anywhere East of the Greenwich peninsular, the journey just over the river is astronomically long – with either the journey to Blackwall or Dartford miles and miles away!What have the politicians got against any form of crossing between (the mostly wide open, empty brownfield) Thamesmead and Royal Docks? There’s already a slip road, bridge and road infrastructure built for a bridge in the Royal Docks –  http://g.co/maps/ppsda – use it!

  • Anonymous

    A key issue with any new east London crossing is to avoid providing a more attractive route for getting around London than the existing M25 Dartford crossing.  At Dartford there are tolls which add to both the cost and the time taken to use the orbital motorway, so clearly there is a risk that a new toll-free crossing linked to the North Circular could divert orbital traffic through urban areas in NE and SE London where hundreds of thousands of people live.  This is why many people have argued previously that a new crossing should be for public transport and local traffic only.  It also lends support to the calls to abandon tolling at Dartford – which was the promise that was made when the tunnel and bridge were built.

    • BethPH

      Absolutely agree. The Dartford tolls should have been removed, yet they have been increased and will rise further. The promise that the tolls would be suspended if congestion reached a specified point has not happened, despite that point being regularly breached. I have to say though that I think diverting via Blackwall to avoid the toll is pretty desperate – it’s not exactly a short-cut. I’m not even sure HGVs using the route regularly would bother but if anyone has any stats around that I’d be interested to see them.

  • Nick

    “Will it generate traffic though? If people are driving in via east London then it’s reasonable to assume that they’re not just doing it out of a desire to join the end of a very long traffic jam. Creating an extra crossing is unlikely to automatically encourage people with a perfectly adequate public transport alternative to drive, so the challenge would be ensuring traffic approaching all three tunnels does not do so from the same roads. If the aim is to keep traffic flowing, thereby reducing the extra emissions caused by vehicles being less fuel-efficient while stationary, then just sticking an extra tunnel in isn’t going to help.”
    It is largely down to the drivers being from Bexley. I think 700 million would be better spent improving public transport down there so that people feel they have an alternative to theirs cars.

    Your attitude suggest you would not be the one to live with the consequences. It suggest you are not someone who live in what is already one of the most polluted parts of London, and which has suffered for DECADES from chronic under investment in its public transport. South East London lags way behind other parts of London when it comes to decent public transport infrastructure and that is only just started to be remedied, and still only in the inner areas. 

    The answer, as ever, is not more bloody roads. 

    • BethPH

      I have lived in east London so am aware of both chronic public transport underfunding in the south east and severe congestion and I don’t disagree that there are still vast improvements to be made. My concern is that the needs of all transport users appear to increasingly be awarded some sort of hierarchy based on knee-jerk reactions to political agendas. Like it or not, people can and do drive in London for a variety of reasons – I used to commute from Herts into Docklands every day because I worked shifts and public transport was not viable. Unfortunately, we can’t simply cease to build roads because people have suddenly decided they don’t like them. The key is planning them properly.

    • Blackheath Truth-teller

      What nonsense. It is closed-eyed enthusiasts like you who contribute to the problems in this blighted area of South East London. If Alpine air is high in your agenda, please move to the pastoral region you crave. This is London, one of the fastest expanding cities in the world – grow-up. Transport and the movement of people and goods is a fundamental principle of London’s economy. The Thames Gateway Bridge was and remains the ONLY correct solution. But well intentioned ill-educated idealists like you, who very likely have the joy of walking to your place of work, or worse still maintain two cars in your household and come onto posts like this so others may oblige your politics. You and those like you have played your part in where we find ourselves today: A dying location, worsening pollution and very little prospects of a solution coming from a transport, financial or civic direction.

  • mk

    I was just about to write something similar to Nick’s comment.

    Your last sentence:

    “Trying to pretend that traffic doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist in London is short-sighted and fails to recognise that transport in and for the city needs to be considered as a whole rather than one section of users versus another section, or worse, used to score political points.”

    is a valid one, and I don’t dispute it. But the fact remains that London has had (for decades), and continues to have, a massive problem with congestion and pollution. Building another tunnel will only induce more people to take to the road, at a time when we should be trying to provide other cleaner, more sustainable alternatives.

    Secondly, you’re forgetting about the socioeconomic demographics of East and Southeast London. The borough in which I live, Lewisham, is one of the poorest in London, with high unemployment rates reflecting a difficulty to not only find work locally, but to be able to search for it in other parts of the city. Many people cannot afford to buy and maintain a car, while others choose not to drive. 

    If equality is really the goal here, then we should be looking at a bridge that allows all road users – pedestrians, cycles, buses and motor vehicles – to get around London more easily.

    • Robin

      Lewisham is well served by public transport. I’m not sure that equality is the goal here. The objective is to reduce congestion and air pollution at the two existing tunnels. London’s problem with congestion and pollution have not been caused by improving roads. It has been caused by installing unnecessary traffic lights, closing roads and allowing the population to increase without any thought about making provision for that increase. 

      By the way, public transport is not sustainable financially. The enormous subsidies required from tax-payers will soon become a political hot-point. It is quite likely that in the next few years, public transport will, like education and the National Health Service, no longer be a sacred cow.

  • Anonymous

    This is a question of stopping a bridge which was cheaper, better, but unpopular in suburban areas and replacing it with a tunnel that is more expensive, won’t solve the problem and only effects parts of the inner city that are already blighted by traffic congestion.

    One of the most shameful decision in London politics I can remember.

    Another crossing is absoltuely a good idea, and a effective road network is essential, but a crossing at silvertown is not the solution to that – thames gateway was.

  • black fingernail

    This is all very well Boris is talking big, but the country is on Carey Street, where and how are these grand schemes to be financed

  • Matt

    “Boris tunnel”?  Surely you meant “Boris bore”?

  • Anonymous

    It is very successful Project for the new east London river.
    http://in.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110504225555AA3G5AA

  • Henry shiwe

    This is just another trick of Boris to gain politcal votes in the upcoming London Mayor election. This is the same Boris that canceleed the initial project and decided to spend most of the funds developing his connies in West London. East Londoners will be stupid to vote for him because he has shown himself to beMayor for the rich in West London and i cant see anyrhing he has done for East London. Boris cancelled more projects in East London than anywhere else since he has become mayor. Its obvious to anyone in East London that a crossing is required around instaed of the most unreliable ferry that is made to transport people. Lets be honest the govenment should kill off the ferries in Thamesmead crossing and just build a bridge there.

  • Nick

    These new proposals are ridiculous, in terms of cost, timeframe, and in the case of the tunnel, location. Boris should never have scrapped the Thames Gateway Bridge!

    Boo to Boris!

  • http://twitter.com/leewilshire Lee Wilshire

    I think in this case the gateway bridge was the best option cost benefit wise that has been tabled to date – the tunnel would however have made more sense if it was proposed a few years ago though…

    The Crossrail Woolwich – Plumstead tunnel contract could have included a parallel road tunnel, probably at significantly lower costs than a road tunnel in its own right. That said it has been hard enough to get Crossrail to happen without any additional complications (trains to Reading for example!)