SITE INVESTIGATION for the new Tyne tunnel could start as early as next month if negotiations, which began this week, are successful.
A consortium led by French contractor Bouygues was last week confirmed as preferred bidder for the £250M privately financed scheme to build an immersed tube tunnel under the river Tyne in Newcastle (News last week).
The French contractor is now thrashing out a pre-development agreement with client Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Authority (TWPTA).
This will allow it to carry out site investigations and develop its design before a full contract is signed at the end of August.
'[Starting work early] gives more certainty to the process between now and financial close and gives us an advantage in the programme.' said TWPTA project director Paul Fenwick.
The agreement will secure Bouygues an undisclosed sum should it carry out the initial works fail to sign the full contract.
Fenwick added that site investigation could start in May if the pre-development agreement is signed, as expected, next week.
Full contract award is expected in August, with construction starting in February 2008 and the tunnel opening in summer 2011.
The contract is being let as a 30 year concession which will see Bouygues take control of the existing Tyne Tunnel as well as building the new crossing.
TWPTA which will then pay the contractor an agreed fee out of an expected £1bn in tolls collected over the concession period.
As well as building the new tunnel, Bouygues must refurbish the existing Tyne tunnel to improve its safety rating.
This opened in 1967 and has consistently been rated as one of the poorest for safety in Europe by the European ADAC motoring groups consortium.
'We don't have a longitudinal escape cell. Until we do the tunnel will always be rated as poor for safety, ' she said.
Fenwick was unable to reveal Bouygues' solution to this challenge until the pre-development agreement has been signed.
Consultant High-Point Rendell is lead designer for the Bouygues consortium, which also includes Parsons Brinckerhoff.