Could London’s traffic problems be fixed by an underground ring-road? ‘Very early stage’ plans that would see a 22-mile subterranean orbital were revealed by the Mayor today.
The Inner Orbital Tunnel is the idea of the independent Roads Task Force, which has been looking at ways to deal with the capital’s increasing traffic. This new scheme would cost an estimated £30 billion to build and would engirdle the centre at roughly the Zone 1/2 boundary. Dual-carriageway tunnels would link the Westway in the west to the A12 in the east, two new tunnels would cross the Thames at Wapping and Battersea, and the southern section would pass through the major redevelopment areas of Nine Elms and Elephant and Castle.
The scheme would take thousands of vehicles off the surface roads, potentially reducing both congestion and pollution (it’s not stated, but we’re assuming a major tunnel, a decade or more hence, would employ some kind of carbon capture or pollution scrubbing not possible on a surface road). The freed-up land above could then be developed in various ways, funds from which would help pay for the tunnels.
Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring told the Standard: “This is not about creating a motorway through the centre of London. It’s about freeing up capacity on the city surface, improving air quality, and reclaiming space for public parks, pedestrians and cyclists.”
There are, undoubtedly, plus sides, but there are also many possible objections not raised in the Standard article. New roads nearly always generate new traffic and all the issues of noise, pollution and increased obesity that implies. Politically, can a case be made for a £30 billion investment in private transport (equivalent to two Crossrail-style public rail lines)? Major tunnels need major interchanges with the outside world (shown as red circles in the map above)… exactly in whose back yard would they be placed? What happens to emergency response times and traffic re-routing in the event of an accident mid-tunnel? Is there even room for a four-lane highway in our crowded subterranean realm? And so on.
The scheme builds on earlier plans to phase out gyratories and build localised tunnels, which were also priced at £30 billion. It’s not clear how the seemingly far more ambitious orbital tunnel could be built for the same estimated cost as the piecemeal developments previously touted.
At the time of writing, details of the scheme beyond those published in the Evening Standard do not seem to be available from either Transport for London or the Roads Task Force.