The light at the end of the tunnel could be in sight for the motorists who spend hours queuing on the M25 at Dartford, as proposals for suspending or scrapping the toll charge are considered.
The crossing has become notorious for rush-hour congestion, which according to the AA has been exacerbated by the increase in the toll from £1 to £1.50 as people wait at the barriers for change or fumble down the back of the seat for the extra 50p. Ironically, if the barriers were lifted in busy times, this could create extra congestion should more people decide to take advantage of the free crossing.
It should come as no surprise that Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology is also being considered as this would allow charging to continue but without the impediment of toll booths. The fact that motorists are charged at all for using the crossing has been hotly debated: the former government reneged on their pledge that tolls would be abolished once building costs had been recouped and rumours of a sale to a private company led to fears of increased tolls and a honking campaign against the proposals. The oft-repeated argument that somehow motorists deserve to be ripped off and sit in queues for eons conveniently ignores the fact that creating congestion simply leads to more pollution.
Once again, the problems at Dartford highlight the lack of river crossings in the east with only the Blackwall Tunnel and the Woolwich Ferry as alternatives, both with their own severe congestion problems. Increased traffic in the area for the Eurostar terminal at Ebbsfleet and the Olympics fast approaching combined with the demise of the Thames Gateway bridge project suggest that things might not improve for some time and we think that Boris Johnson's cable car might prove an inadequate supplement for the estimated 150,000 vehicles that cross Dartford every day.
Image by Dusty Sevens in the Londonist Flickr pool.