The £371M A3 Hindhead Tunnel was opened by transport secretary Philip Hammond today - which will reduce journey times between London and Portsmouth.
The 1.9km tunnel – the longest of its type in the UK – is part of a 6.4km bypass of the Surrey village of Hindhead.
It will benefit road users and the local community by reducing traffic at the notorious bottleneck in Hindhead and restoring peace and tranquility to a highly valued part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by diverting the A3 away from the Devil’s Punchbowl, an internationally protected site.
The project has won awards for its innovation and its safety record, and has been delivered within budget and on schedule.
Philip Hammond cut the ribbon on the project and witnessed the very first traffic coming through the new tunnel.
“This is another one of the ‘missing links’ in Britain’s trunk road network now put in place,” said Hammond.
“For years traffic has been held up at the Hindhead crossroads, hampering the flow of goods and services along this vital artery and blighting the lives of people living in and around Hindhead. No longer. This new road will transform journeys on the A3 – improving journey times by around 20 minutes or more at busy periods - and will deliver a threefold return on investment for the economy.”
“This cutting-edge road scheme has surpassed expectations in almost every way, and sets a new standard for how vital infrastructure improvements can be delivered in a way that not only protects, but actually enhances the surrounding environment. The Highways Agency, along with their contractors Balfour Beatty, designers Mott MacDonald, and consultants Atkins are to be congratulated on their achievement.”
The old A3 was the only section of single carriageway on the A3 outside London, and had at its heart the road’s only set of traffic lights, at the notorious Hindhead crossroads.
Built in the 1830s, it dissects the famous Devil’s Punchbowl, now part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
As well as diverting the road away from this prized environment and nearby village, and creating the largest area of lowland heathland in southern Britain, seven safe crossing points have been built over or under the new road, most of them specifically for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.
A major new junction has been built at Hazel Grove, and access roads have been built for the businesses and properties that used to turn directly on to the busy A3. The tunnel itself contains state-of-the-art safety features, including the UK’s first radar-based incident detection system and 100% CCTV coverage.
Southbound traffic starts using the tunnel today, and northbound traffic will be introduced to the new road later in the week. After that, work will begin to return the old A3 to nature, reuniting the Devil’s Punchbowl with Hindhead Common for the first time in almost 200 years.
Six other major road improvements are currently under construction on major roads in England. Subject to statutory processes, the Highways Agency will start work on a further 14 other major road upgrades before 2015. The next to start work will be the A23 Handcross to Warninglid improvement scheme in West Sussex, later this year.