CASH FROM the Dartford Crossing tolls could be used to fund repairs on the M25 in three years time, it emerged this week.
The bridge and tunnel crossing is currently operated and maintained by Kvrner under a concession whose length is determined by the amount of toll revenues it earns. It is now expected to revert to government control in 2001.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's transport White Paper this week named the Dartford Crossing as a toll road whose revenues could fund improvements elsewhere on the motorway network.
The £60M raised annually from 48M cars using the tunnel and bridge crossings could be used after considering 'how best it could contribute to delivering integrated transport policy objectives related to the M25', says the White Paper.
The document promises a consultation on the continuing of Dartford tolls after the Kvrner led consortium, Dartford River Crossing, fulfils its agreement to pay for the bridge by tolling.
Dartford River Crossing managing director Peter Goddin said: 'When we signed the agreement in 1988, we forecast that tolling would pay for the land purchased, construction of the bridge and debts from the tunnel, by 2007. We now forecast to recover our money by 2001. The toll has been so successful because drivers can physically feel the benefits of falling queues leading up to the tunnel.'
The paper also promotes the development of pilot electronic road tolling schemes to raise funds for road improvements.
It is unlikely that electronic tolls would be set very high because of the risk of diverting traffic on to local roads, said Denvil Coombe, deputy managing director of transport consultant MVA.
The White Paper says that: 'Pilot charging schemes will be individually developed and designed to take into account the local transport network, ensuring in particular that unacceptable diversion does not take place on to local roads.'
This indicated the Government saw tolling as a revenue raising measure rather than a traffic deterrent, said Coombe.
Roads lobbyists gave the tolling proposals a cautious welcome. 'If the motorist paid to go on certain roads then the operator would have a responsibility to ensure that those roads were better maintained,' said Jonathan Bullock of the British Roads Federation.
But there were fears of a hiatus in road spending until road tolling was under way.
Confederation of British Industry director general Adair Turner said: 'While new ways of raising funds such as city centre and motorway tolls may be part of the long term solution, action should not wait for this. We must start now to reduce the maintenance and investment backlog.'
The White Paper also spells out plans to turn the Highways Agency from a road building authority into a national trunk road and motorway network operator. Its main task will be to make best use of the network's capacity.