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Worth every penny

The Limehouse Link is famous for one thing: its cost. A damning House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report in 1995 sealed the 293M projects fate forever that of being remembered as Britains most expensive road.

In May it will be five years since the link opened. LDDC head of highway operations Bob Blyth steered the project through planning, construction and maintenance and reckons the scheme has been unfairly maligned.

The link is a 1.8km cut and cover tunnel with two lanes in each direction, designed by Gibb and built by a Balfour Beatty-Amec joint venture. It currently carries over 70,000 vehicles a day to and from the City.

Despite the Links 30mph (48km/h) speed limit, inductor loops built into the floor have recorded a long term average speed of 42mph. Before construction it was a nightmare, recalls Blyth. It took an hour

and a half to get from Limehouse to the bottom of the Isle of Dogs. People tend to forget this.

He also highlights the local communitys widespread approval for the project and the fact that the tunnel has had a good safety record. There have been no fatal accidents since it opened to traffic, and cladding panels lining the tunnels have been the main victims of prangs, stresses Blyth.

Challenged on the cost of the scheme, Blyth says that the link is a bigger beast than originally envisioned. It was also pushed through from planning to opening in just seven years.

Blyth came to Docklands in 1982. Since then he has remained a secondee from contractor WA Fairhurst, which was brought in by the corporation to help spend its money.

It was not until 1987 that the major civil engineering projects really got going in the area. Over the following six years the main Docklands highways were built, including the Limehouse Link and East India Dock Tunnel.

Blyth guided the Limehouse Link project through to completion as the corporations chief engineer. Then, as head of highway operations, he was responsible for training a fairly large team to operate and maintain the tunnel at a cost of 2M a year.

He says the idea was to get all the staff trained up before the 31 March handover, but LDDC is winding up before the work has been finished. The Commission for New Towns will oversee the training until the tunnel is absorbed into the A13 DBFO project.

There are now 21 operations staff keeping the tunnel ship-shape, including mechanical and electrical services engineers and fitters. We try and do as much work as possible in-house, but of course if fans need replacing then well get in outside contractors, explains Blyth. There are also a dozen road safety officers plus a management team.

Essential repairs and cleaning are carried out over two nights on a four weekly cycle. During these possessions both tunnels are given a thorough service, from washing down the walls to checking the fire hoses and emergency phones and repairing the carriageway.

Despite the cost Blyth remains proud of the project. It is a superb engineering achievement built in extra fast time, he says.


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