The results of the Mersey Gateway consultation highlight the need to discount unpopular tolls for local residents.
The Mersey Gateway is a £390 million project that would provide a new bridge over the River Mersey between the towns of Runcorn and Widnes, easing congestion on the nearby heavily congested Silver Jubilee Bridge. As part of the project the Silver Jubilee Bridge would be changed to improve facilities for public transport, walking and cycling. (see NCE 06.09.07)
The consultation asked specifically for views on where the priority for discounts should be focused and how the Silver Jubilee Bridge should best be redeveloped for the maximum benefit of local people. It highlighted four key areas where the project team is taking action to ensure that the issues raised are reflected as far as possible in the Mersey Gateway planning application. This will be submitted in early 2008, and is the next stage in the process which should lead to construction starting in 2011 and the new bridge opening to traffic in 2014.
These four issues are:
Tolling – The project team is now committed to the principle of prioritising discounts for local people. Although it is not practical to confirm exactly what toll levels will be until 2010 or 2011, the funding agreement with the government includes a significant sum to subsidise toll revenue, which will help to keep toll charges down. Other options such as discounts for regular users or off-peak use have not been ruled out.
Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway Project Director for Giffords said: "We know that tolling is an issue that causes concerns, but nearly half of the 90,000 vehicles crossing the Silver Jubilee Bridge every day travel through Halton without stopping. Tolling is the fairest way of ensuring that these drivers, who will use and benefit from the new bridge as it will make their journey faster and more reliable, contribute towards its cost."
Central Expressway – Studies predict that traffic levels along the Central Expressway will increase as traffic is diverted along it to access the new bridge. The project team has asked its engineering consultants, Gifford, to look at how measures like noise barriers and landscaping could be used to reduce the effects of this increased traffic. This study will be complete in early 2008 and details of any new measures will be included in the Mersey Gateway planning application.
Possible new M56 junction – The project plan highlights the possibility for a new junction 11A on the M56 near Preston Brook, allowing M56 traffic easy access to the new bridge and improved road network. The project team is currently discussing this option with the Highways Agency, and a further announcement will be made by the end of 2007. Anyone who expressed an interest in this area will get an opportunity to make their views known during future discussions.
Impact on businesses along the route – although the Mersey Gateway route doesn’t directly affect any occupied homes, it does affect a number of business premises in South Widnes and at Astmoor in Runcorn. The project team is now fast-tracking its planned approach for working with local businesses. The first step will be to write to all affected land owners to ask how they would like the land purchase programme to be taken forward. This will ensure that local businesses get the time they need to plan for their future in Halton.
The full consultation report is available on the Mersey Gateway website, www.merseygateway.co.uk, along with other details about the project.