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Solving Thames Gateway's traffic problem

As construction motors ahead on the huge London Gateway port project, there are questions about whether this world-class port will be served by world-class roads leading to and from it.

When planning permission was granted in 2007 for this, the UK’s newest deep water port, it was on condition that developer DP World pay for a £100M upgrade to junction 30 of the M25 in Thurrock, Essex that connects it to the A13 - the main trunk road between London and the port.

However, this requirement has since been dropped because DP World reviewed the scope and phasing of the port work amid a fall in shipping demand in 2009 and decided to deliver the project in phases.

The Highways Agency and DP World continue to “have constructive dialogue” about the best solution for the junction, an Agency spokesman told NCE this week.

According to DP World civil engineering director Andrew Bowen, an agreement has been made to fund a traffic light upgrade at the junction along with some slip road improvements.

NCE understands that this work is likely to cost £10M - a fraction of the previously proposed upgrade.

This solution, DP World says, will accommodate projected traffic to and from the port when phase one is complete by the end of 2013.

At this point there will be three berths with a 1.6M TEU capacity, and discussions will then take place to decide what further improvements could be made for when the port reaches full operational capacity with six berths and a 3.5M TEU capacity.

“The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Highways Agency are also developing longer term plans for a major scheme for junction 30 of the M25,” a spokesman for the Highways Agency says.

As announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010, this is among those schemes to be progressed to be constructed in the years after 2015, subject to statutory processes.

Given the Agency’s and the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) insistence that DP World pay for at least a portion of the junction upgrade, there were clearly some reservations about traffic increase in the area resulting from the port’s development.

One traffic modelling expert told NCE that if he were working on the project, he would want to prove that there would not be an increase in traffic in the area, even if in reality that might not be true.

“You want to show that with a development that there will be no [negative] impact,” he says. “But scratch the surface, and that’s not the real world.”

Any cargo coming from the new port that has to be transported to the South East will have to use the already heavily congested Dartford Crossing.

Bowen says this was taken into account in the traffic management meetings with the Agency and caused no major concern.

“Very little traffic goes south,” he says. “It [traffic from Thames Gateway] was in the traffic management plan and we did take it into account but we believe there will be very little impact and that the benefits far outweigh any issues.”

However, when asked if DP World would back a third Thames crossing at the notorious bottleneck, Bowen’s answer was very much supportive, suggesting that he recognises the need for some form of capacity increase in the eastern sector of the M25.

“We would support any upgrade to infrastructure,” he says.

Bowen, who has been working on this project for almost a decade, says the port is one of the largest and most interesting infrastructure projects in the UK right now.

“It’s the most exciting port development around the world to be involved in,” he says.

“It has been very large and there has been a long planning process to get the port underway.”

It goes without saying that the surrounding infrastructure to enable the movement of cargo should match the world-class capabilities of this new port.

But solutions to pinchpoints like the Dartford Crossing remain stalled.

The DfT says it is currently reviewing the options for a third Dartford Crossing, which could include a new one at the site of the existing bridge and tunnels.

This review is due for completion within the next six months, when it will then have to be put to a public consultation.

With roads funding apparently a new priority for the government, many will hope money will be diverted to move this project along and that maybe there will be more scope to attract more private investment.

Readers' comments (3)

  • The aim should be to reduce, not increase, road traffic. Increased Gateway road capacity would inevitably feed more traffic into the overall road system. Deep water berths accommodate large tonnages. Emphasis should be on appropriate rail service improvements, perhaps with appropriately situated rail/road container transfer facilities at destination centres.
    Peter Ravine.

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  • Option 1 (a new crossing at the site of the existing bridge and tunnels) as an attempt to deal with the Dartford Crossing bottleneck would clearly be very expensive and time consuming. Removal of the existing tolls and toll booths, as originally promised when the PFI bridge cost agreement was in process, but subsequently reneged on, would provide an immediate increase in crossing capacity by eliminating the daily traffic queuing.

    Option 3 (new crossing East of Tilbury and Gravesend) would surely link to the M2 motorway, not to the M20 as stated on the key plan!

    Brian Horton

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  • I recall a statement made by DP World reps in the past where the owners expressed amazement that such a vast project and massive private sector investment did not trigger a corresponding offer of local traffic improvements as expected in other countries which rely so much on trade with overseas markets.

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