Plans For A 22-Mile Ring Road Beneath London

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The proposed route (dotted red line), with interchanges shown in circles. Source, TfL.

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.

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  • Freedom

    This is what London needs. After years of Ken-gestion by ignorant car-hating lefties it is about time a decent road was built. The North Circular is incomplete and again, thanks to Ken many improvements have been thwarted with ‘housing’, although it is quite beyond me why anyone would want to live at the side of a major road!

    • Paul M

      Um, Freedom, do you at all appreciate the irony implied in your final 19 words?

  • https://soundcloud.com/inhead-kay/ Kay

    aaannddd queue another eon length debate between parties, locals and activists over this before this even get the approval. we’re still debating things like a 3rd runway and where the hs2 should be re-routed while in China they’re talking about building an underground train between china, russia and the US…

  • CanAmSteve

    About time. But a better (simpler, less expensive) option might be a tunnel that “collects” M1 and M11 traffic from the north and “delivers” it to the M20.

    All roads (and trains) now lead to London and if the rest of the UK is to prosper and take advantage of its EU connections, why should London stand in the way?

    It helps none of us that a lorry travelling from Carlisle to Bordeaux has to navigate half the M25, along with Rob the Rep on his way home. And why should people heading to the continent have to change stations (let alone trains) in London?

    The beauty of a tunnel is that it has almost no local effects. Add a few slip roads to existing junctions and the rest is invisible and underground. Didn’t I hear they were just “parking” some of the Crassrail digging machines underground? Let’s put them back to work on something more useful than speeding stockbrokers to the Yellow Dwarf. (Canary Wharf)

  • Londoner

    I’ll park the questions of whether money would be better spent on railways, and the fact that it could employ existing Crossrail tunnelling machines just to comment on the actual proposal itself. It does little for South London congestion. It won’t prevent A3 traffic bottle-necking in Wandsworth, or A2/A20 traffic in Greenwich. The two new river crossings are much needed but if only able to be accessed at 6 and 7 traffic would need to drive even further to get to them. Something needs to be done about Nine Elms but Crossrail2 is a better solution than encouraging cars. Most of all though it does nothing for cross South London access. Freedom says “The North Circular is incomplete” – the South Circular is residential streets full of pedestrians and no underpasses. And there is no good way to cross any further South until the M25. Try to drive from Dartford to Bromley to Croydon to Kingston to Hounslow and see how long it takes you. That is the kind of journey delivery vehicles and sales reps make daily. But then you can’t make that journey by train either. As Kay says, you can add about 30 years on for planning law cases by which time I won’t be here and the UK will be so behind that it will no longer matter.

  • mb

    This sort of money would be better spent on public transport lines (Crossrail cost 16billion, so about half this amount…just think if we could have two more Crossrails). The approaches/onramps to an underground motorway would be incredibly disruptive. Plus, there is the phenomenon of induced demand with road traffic, so this would likely solve very little.

  • Hooligan

    I thought April the 1st was a while ago.

  • James

    This is all good in principal but like with any project in the UK (think HS2) it will take decades to sort out. Years of consultation, years of changes, years of legal hold ups and it’ll probably take about 10+ years to build (where a country like China would build in a few years). After a while just like HS2 the whole project will be underrated and too late. Think how HS2 won’t be built until late 2020′s and even then the trains will be slower than the fastest trains available today. This is how short sighted and pathetic this country has become.

    • christopheral

      People suggesting that China gets things built quicker should also think about the cost to human life that goes with anything that China does. I’d rather wait for my infrastructure than it have end someones life or create irreparable damage to the environment.

  • YES2014

    Another reason for Scotlands people to Vote for Independence….School closures, food banks and austerity in full swing while whilst a government that nobody in Scotland actually voted for spends £30billion+ on a road that London doesn’t need.

  • http://www.YEGventures.ca lincolnho

    Have fun when it rains… like all the time! lol