When a serious rush hour accident closed Runcorn's Silver Jubilee Bridge for four hours recently, Halton Borough Council operational director for highways and transportation Alan West rang a colleague 12km away in Warrington to warn him that traffic would soon be backing up.
He need not have bothered.
Warrington town centre was already jam packed with motorists trying to find a way around one of the north west's worst bottlenecks.
Gridlock spreads far and wide whenever there is a major snarl up on the already overloaded Silver Jubilee Bridge and efforts to get a second crossing built between Runcorn and Widnes are gathering pace as a result.
Spearheading the project is Halton Borough Council, whose boundaries straddle the Mersey and take in Runcorn and Widnes.
Halton owns the Silver Jubilee Bridge - the only major crossing of the river on the 32km between the Mersey Tunnels in Liverpool and the M6 Thelwall viaduct.
So far the project has received development funding and some encouragement from the Department for Transport. But affordability remains a major stumbling block. Chancellor Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review looms, and the council is seeking a commitment for around £2M in funding to take the project through the detailed planning process.
This will pay for procurement for a design build finance operate scheme which could start on site as early as 2007.
The Spending Review is likely to cut transport spending, but without the new crossing congestion, and the repercussions of accidents on the Silver Jubilee Bridge, will only get worse.
Current estimates put the cost of a new Mersey crossing at £335M, although West says the net benefits of the bridge would run to around £600M. Economically, it makes no sense to cut this desperately needed project.
The distinctive green arched Silver Jubilee Bridge was given its name in 1977 when extra capacity was squeezed out of it by shoehorning four lanes into space previously occupied by two. This helped alleviate growing congestion, but increased the risk of accidents. The bridge handles 80,000 vehicles a day, well above its design capacity.
Halton is heading a group of local authorities and business groups pushing for a new crossing to be built. Consultant Gifford is also developing designs and work on feasibility studies.
Part of the bridge campaign group is Liverpool John Lennon Airport, which lies just north of the Silver Jubilee bridge and depends on it to deliver passengers in time for flights.
Size and complexity are the main reasons for the high cost of the bridge. A cable stay design is preferred as the best balance:
there is a need to minimise the number of pylons in the river by using long spans, but high towers would interfere with flight paths approaching the airport.
Halton has no chance of finding all the cash itself. It is one of Britain's poorest boroughs.
Council tax and government grants between them will not cover the cost of the project, even if spread over a number of years under a PFI concession.
This means it needs some government funding, and the council is reluctantly exploring the use of tolls to subsidise some of the cost (News last week).