RENEWED DOUBT has been cast over the A3 Hindhead tunnel after the government revealed that costs have escalated from £240M to £370M in two years.
The setback comes just two weeks after roads minister Stephen Ladyman included it in the programme of schemes that the government expects to fund in the south east in the next three years (NCE 13 July).
This inclusion reflected the South East England Regional Assembly's advice that the scheme is a high funding priority.
The scheme will divert 6.7km of the existing A3 Portsmouth Road via a 1.9km tunnelled section beneath the Devil's Punch Bowl. It is the only remaining single carriageway section of the A3.
Ladyman put the scheme in the regional funding programme, subject to a satisfactory report from the public inquiry inspector.
But last week, transport secretary Douglas Alexander said that he was only 'minded to' accept the inspector's recommendations in favour of the scheme.
Alexander said that a final decision will be taken 'in the light of responses to a limited consultation exercise to address the fact that, since the close of the local inquiry, there has been a signifi cant increase in costs of the scheme'.
The rises are due to additional inflation following the delayed start. Construction inflation is running at twice that originally allowed for. Tightened tunnelling regulations have also impacted on costs.
These increases make a bypass alternative - rejected at public inquiry - significantly more cost-effective. The preferred route has a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) of 2.8. The bypass has a BCR of 4.0.
The South East England Regional Assembly said that it was keen to continue with the proposed scheme, but added that it would be looking to the government to make up the cost increase.