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Letters: Would a toll free Dartford Crossing be congestion free?

The main point

Dartford Crossing

Are toll booths congestion management tools?

Regarding Jackie Whitelaw’s comments about a free flowing Dartford Crossing (NCE 20/27 August) − surely she knows the congestion is caused by the toll booths and if you remove the toll booths you remove the congestion.

Why are the toll booths still there? Originally the tolls were supposed to end when they had paid back the construction cost of the QE2 bridge. According to the Highways Agency website this happened on 31 March 2002.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy back the PFI concession and remove the toll booths rather than set up and maintain costly number plate recognition technology?

  • Giles Darling (M),

Your recent “Comment” referred to queuing for 40 minutes to pay the crossing toll charge on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford and stated that the Highway Agency is considering “options” (NCE 20/27 August). We have just had another 2p per litre tax on motor fuel, in accordance with this government’s policy of attempting to reduce demand, by increasing taxes on fuel above the rate of inflation.

Its purpose, in so doing, is purported to be to counter the effects of climate change, but if it was serious, the solution in the case of the highly trafficked Dartford Crossing would be to eliminate all tolls.

The Scottish Parliament’s lead in abolishing tolls on all Scottish road bridges has, by all accounts, greatly cut down on congestion. Slow moving traffic queues on the Dartford Crossing use unnecessarily large amounts of fuel, thereby greatly contributing to pollution.

National road pricing schemes are a separate and emotive issue. There is of course an existing Dart Tag scheme, whereby the tag can be read and charges made solely to pre-registered users, but this will only be applicable to some users, as would any number recognition scheme. Provision would always have to be made for occasional users.

  • Graham Tillyer, 5 Ben Austins, Redbourn, St. Albans, Hertfordshire AL3 7DR

Robert Bain comments on the safety role that the 14 toll booth lanes have on feeding traffic into the two northbound Dartford tunnels (Letters last week). Surely the 14 lanes are there to maximise the number of booths ie for toll purposes not traffic management.

If there were no tolls the number of lanes on the northbound access to the tunnels would be the same as, and continuous with, the joining northbound motorway. The tunnels would then operate unrestricted in the same way as other tunnels on the M25 without the excessive delays which occur at the river crossing.

Nevertheless there is a capacity issue due to the number and arrangement of the junctions which feed the northbound M25 south of the crossing.

  • Terry Hayward,


Why don’t airport operators put their passengers first?


Are airport operators trying to increase our exercise?

I was interested to read the article concerning plans to rebuild Heathrow airport’s Terminal 2 (NCE 6/13 August).

However, having used Heathrow Terminal 5, I have to ask the question: “When, oh when, will they design a terminal with the interests of passengers in mind?”

Getting to or from a plane at most terminals involves walking considerable distances with many changes of level and in the case of Terminal 5 with a short metro journey as well.

Is this really necessary or are the designers simply concerned with the convenience of the operators?

  • John James (M), Tithe Barn, Lower Cross, Clearwell, Glos GL16 8LD.


Tender traps

The guiding principle of the ICE 5th and 6th forms of contract was that the contractor should bear the cost of those risks which he could be expected to anticipate and the employer should bear the cost of the “unforeseen” ones.

This worked reasonably well so long as the employer had “in-house” intelligence in design and construction and could require the contractor to provide detailed substantiation of any claims.

Arvind Kumar (NCE 20/27 August) will recall that Barbara Castle, when she was transport minister 40 years ago, was concerned that her department’s engineers lacked experience of design and contracts.

She set up Road Construction Units in conjunction with some county highways departments to use the knowledge and training facilities available there.

A subsequent administration thought money could be made selling off these units. The fashion then led to local authorities selling off their expertise too.

It remains to be seen whether the long term framework and partnering arrangements will give value for money, and what will happen when these contractors have financial difficulties.

  • John Oliver, (M), 9 Campion Close, Aylesbury, Bucks HP20 1QG

Welsh woes

Alexandra Wynne’s article on travelling from London to a remote farmhouse in Wales (NCE 20/27 August) has particular resonance for me because I spent my first 18 years in that hauntingly beautiful place.

The public transport system in that area is, if anything, worse than she reports. For example, the bus on the A40 trunk road from Llandovery to Brecon (via Trecastle) no longer reaches Brecon: passengers have to disembark at the next village (Sennybridge) and wait for the bus from Swansea to complete their journey.

According to my mother, who frequently travels this route, passengers are obliged to disembark even from the last bus of the day − which continues to Brecon!

Moreover, many buses, including the one to Abergavenny, take tortuous and lengthy routes along back roads. Thus such services are patronised mainly by the elderly and tourists − travelling to work by bus is well-nigh impossible.

Wynne’s frustration at the lack of transport information/coordination is symptomatic of the weak direction and neglect of such services by those charged to provide them. But while minor improvements could be made easily, I doubt whether the planners will have the wit to implement more imaginative solutions.

  • Dr Trevor Davies (formerly of Gwernwyddog, Cwmwysg), the University of Glasgow,

Endless journey

How long would your reporter’s journey from Highbury to Cwmwysg by car have taken if she had started at 8.30am instead of 4.30am?

She would have then been caught in London congestion, heavy traffic on the M4 going out of London, possible delays due to an accident on the M4, congestion around Bristol and the M5 interchange, queues at the Severn Bridge, and delays caused by queues back from the Brynglas tunnels at Newport.

I know because I’ve suffered all these when I’ve needed to go to London by car and use public transport whenever I can.

Also, has your reporter never heard of taxis?

  • Hugh Payne,

Plain speaking

It was interesting to see a re-print of the Robert Runcie article that was first reported in the 25 June edition (NCE 6/13 August). While the recent re-hash touched upon the much needed “integrated approach” to flood management, I think the next reporting should scratch out “defence” and replace it with the phrase that is riddled in both articles, “risk management”.

As all those working in this field will tell you, managing the environmental hazard of flooding is not purely about building defences, but a combination of alleviating measures (eg land management).

It is vital that the correct vocabulary is used for bringing the much needed changes in flood management, so let’s get it right in the strap-lines of articles written to rally support for the additional funding required to implement these changes.

  • Adam Cambridge, assistant engineer, Atkins Water and Environment,

Sitting on our hands

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at some of the glib comments made on the subject of wind turbine operating losses (“Windless days not a problem” NCE 20/27 August).

The true and realistic situation on wind turbine power was very ably illustrated in Hugh Sharman’s papers in the ICE’s Civil Engineering Proceedings dated May and November 2005 relating to Denmark and Britain. The current experts would do well to study these papers.

Sadly the whole engineering profession has been sitting on its hands since the catastrophic privatisation of the electricity supply industry in the early 1990s. All long term planning ceased and very little investment has taken place on the part of the private sector in replacing the increasingly aged base load thermal power stations which meet the core of demand.

The plant margin − always maintained by CEGB across England and Wales at 28% - has dropped dramatically and, as the chief of National Grid announced recently, unless very urgent action is taken to install new base load plant, the lights will go out before long.

  • JC Joel, Pen Y Geulan, Wer Y Wylan, Llanddona, Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8TR

Your views & opinion

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ

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