Lower Thames Crossing: Where's The New Thames Tunnel And When Will It Open?

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 68 months ago

Last Updated 10 October 2018

Lower Thames Crossing: Where's The New Thames Tunnel And When Will It Open?
Lower Thames Crossing route plan, new motorway and tunnel under the Thames from Gravesend to Tilbury
A new motorway is planned. Image: Highways England

For a long time, there have been calls for new Thames crossings in the east of London — but they probably didn't mean this far east. Meet the Lower Thames crossing, a planned new tunnel for which the public consultation has just opened.

What is the Lower Thames Crossing?

Lower Thames Crossing planned route map from Gravesend to Tilbury
Image: Highways England

The Lower Thames Crossing is a new tunnel going under the Thames, connecting Kent and Essex. In addition to the tunnel itself, several new roads will be built in the surrounding area to improve traffic flow. The Highways Agency has described it as "the most ambitious road project since the M25".

Where will the Lower Thames Crossing be? Is it in London?

Image: Highways England

The Lower Thames Crossing will join the area of north Kent around Gravesend to the Tilbury and Ockendon areas of Essex, and the M25.

The exact route is still being worked out — the current plans have already moved the tunnel entrance 600m further south than originally intended. Highways England give a detailed idea of the plans as of October 2018.

In addition to the 2.5 mile long tunnel, there are plans for 14.5 miles of new motorway to connect the tunnel to existing roads via new and existing junctions.

Lower Thames Crossing junction with A13
Artist impression of the planned junction of the Lower Thames Crossing and A13, near Thurrock. Image: Highways England

The planned route begins at the junction of the M2/A2 between Rochester and Gravesend in Kent, where a new motorway will head north, becoming a tunnel around the village of Shorne. The tunnel will emerge on the north side of the Thames around Tilbury, with the new motorway continuing via a new junction with the A13 close to Orsett, through South Ockendon and North Ockendon, and meeting the M25 at Junction 29 — the edge of the London Borough of Havering.

Here's an artist's impression of the October 2018 plans:

When will the Lower Thames Crossing open?

If all goes according to plan, the Lower Thames Crossing is expected to open to traffic in 2027.

Will the Lower Thames Crossing be free to use?

Lower Thames Crossing south of the Thames
Plans for the most southern part of the Lower Thames Crossing. Image: Highways England

No, as with the nearby Queen Elizabeth II bridge, there will be a charge to use the Lower Thames Crossing. The exact cost hasn't yet been confirmed — it'll be decided after the 2018 public consultation. In the same way as the QE2 bridge, payments will be made remotely rather than in booths on the road.

According to the BBC, the charge will be a 'user charge' rather than a toll. The former means it will continue to be charged indefinitely, whereas a toll is only charged for as long as it takes to recover the costs of building the crossing. Bit controversial that — the charges for using the Queen Elizabeth II bridge were initially intended as a toll, to be charged only as long as it too to cover the building costs, but 27 years later the charge has increased from £1 to £2.50 for a car, and will be charged indefinitely.

Who can use the Lower Thames Crossing?

New three-lane Lower Thames Crossing tunnel between Kent and Essex
Artist impression of the new three-lane Lower Thames Crossing tunnel. Image: Highways England

The crossing will be in the form of a motorway (with no hard shoulders), so will be open to all vehicles which can use a motorway. Doesn't look like there's any provision for cyclists or pedestrians.

Why is the Lower Thames Crossing being built?

The Dartford Crossing is currently the furthest east crossing - excluding Eurostar tunnels - on the Thames

The aim is to increase capacity for vehicles to cross the Thames and in doing so, ease congestion at the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, otherwise known as the Dartford Crossing. This will be done by offering three additional lanes in each direction for traffic crossing the Thames between Kent and Essex.

How much will the Lower Thames Crossing cost to build?

As of October 2018, a figure of £6 billion is being thrown around to cover getting the Lower Thames Crossing up and running.

Opposition and controversy around the Lower Thames Crossing

Despite the need for increased traffic capacity crossing the river, there is opposition to the plans for the Lower Thames Crossing. In particular, communities around Ockendon — the only part of London that lies outside the M25 — are concerned that the planned route will separate North Ockendon from South Ockendon. In March 2018 we visited the Ockendon area and spoke to locals to find out what's going on.

Elsewhere, environmental campaigners worry about the increased volume of road traffic it will bring through the area, and that valuable wetlands may be under threat. Thurrock Council unanimously opposes the plans due to the noise, pollution and health risks the new road will have on local residents.

Following an initial consultation back in 2014, changes were made to the plans including lowering the height of the road by 6m in some places, to lessen the visual impact on the landscape.

Next steps for the Lower Thames Crossing

Lower Thames Crossing route at Tilbury
The planned route around Tilbury. Image: Highways England

A public consultation about the plans for the Lower Thames Crossing runs 10 October-10 December 2018. It allows the public to have a say on factors such as the route, impact on local area and charges to use the crossing.

Following this, a formal application for a Development Consent Order will be made in 2019. The current anticipated opening date for the crossing is 2027.

Find out more on the Lower Thames Crossing website and follow the Lower Thames Twitter account for updates.