The length of the recommended option is 14.2 miles, with two miles of twin tunnels, and the estimated cost of the scheme is between £4.3bn and £5.9bn. It could be built and open for traffic within 10 years.
The new Lower Thames Crossing is expected to help unlock stalled economic and residential development in the Thames Gateway region in Kent and Essex, and relieve congestion at the existing Dartford tunnels and bridge.
In 2013, two locations were shortlisted for a new bridge or tunnel across the river: one near the existing Dartford Crossing (known as Option A) and the other linking the M2 with the M25 via the A13 (known as Option C), with a possible further link to the M20 (Option C Variant).
An option B, connecting the A2 Swanscombe Peninsula with the A1089, had earlier been ruled out.
Since 2013, Highways England has been assessing the shortlisted options and developing possible routes at each location. This evaluation is now complete, and Highways England is recommending a new road crossing at location C through twin bored tunnels.
The proposed scheme would run from the end of the M2, crossing the river just east of Gravesend and Tilbury and joining the M25 between junctions 29 and 30. If built, it would be the first new crossing of the Thames east of London since the Queen Elizabeth II bridge opened at Dartford 25 years ago.
A Highways England consultation seeking public views on the proposals starts today (26th January 2016) and runs until Thursday 24th March 2016.*
Roads minister Andrew Jones said: “Roads are key to ensuring the nation’s prosperity. As part of our long-term economic plan, we are making the biggest investment in roads in a generation. The government is committed to delivering a Lower Thames Crossing which will increase capacity and provide better, faster journeys across the Thames.
“Once complete it could add over £7 billion to the economy by increasing investment and business opportunities, and create over 5,000 new jobs nationally.”
Highways England senior project manager Martin Potts said: “Deciding where the new crossing should go is a vitally important decision, and we’ve been working hard to identify solutions that strike the best balance between improving journeys, getting value for money and managing environmental impact. Our assessments have shown that Location C provides double the economic benefits of Location A as well as a clear alternative route to the Dartford Crossing, reducing congestion and improving resilience of the road network. And by choosing a tunnel rather than a bridge we can minimise the effects of the new road on the environment.
“There are important choices to be made. As well as inviting comments from the public about our recommendations, we have identified three routes for the new road to the north of the river and two routes south of the river. We welcome views on them all.
“This consultation is your chance to have your say on a once-in-a-generation, multi-billion pound investment that will have wide ranging effects for decades. I encourage anyone who would like to find out more to check out the consultation materials or come and see us at one of the public exhibitions we’ll be hosting.”
There will be 24 public exhibitions, held at venues across Kent and Essex. All responses will be taken into consideration before a final decision is made by the Government later this year.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) supported the route selection but had concerns about the choice of tunnel over a bridge. FTA policy chief Malcolm Bingham said: “We recognise that a tunnel will have less environmental impact than a bridge but it brings its own challenges for the freight industry. The current Dartford tunnels create delays for all when vehicles with dangerous goods or height and width issues pass through, as they either have to wait to be escorted or ensure they are in the correct approaching lane due to the tunnel’s limitations.
“We urge Highways England to ensure that construction includes putting in place safety systems to allow these vehicles to move freely through the new tunnel without having to stop.”
* For details see www.lower-thames-crossing.co.uk