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Northbound vehicles approaching the entrance to the western tunnel, with the southbound Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in the background
Aerial view of the crossing looking northwards

The Dartford - Thurrock River Crossing, Dartford River Crossing (DRC) (or simply the Dartford Crossing) is a major road transport crossing of the River Thames in England. It connects Dartford in the south to Thurrock in the north using two road tunnels and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, a 137 metre high cable-stayed bridge. Before the opening of the road bridge, the crossing was known as the Dartford Tunnel. The crossing forms part of London's orbital M25 motorway (although officially not part of the M25, see note[1]), and carries nearly 150,000 vehicles a day.

The crossing opened with a single road tunnel in 1963, augmented by an adjacent second tunnel opened in 1980. The QEII Bridge was built alongside the tunnels, to the east, and was opened in 1991. Southbound traffic crosses via the four lane bridge, while northbound traffic travels in both of the two lane road tunnels. In bad weather or high winds, the bridge is closed and the crossing reverts to use of the two tunnels for both directions as was the case before the bridge was built.

The crossing is situated 16 miles (26 km) east of the centre of London, but just 2 miles (3 km) outside of the boundary limits of Greater London. Its southern end is in the Borough of Dartford in the county of Kent, while its northern end is in the Thurrock unitary authority, ceremonially part of the county of Essex. Formerly managed jointly by Kent and Essex councils, the crossing is now managed by Connect Plus (M25) Limited on behalf of the national Highways Agency.

The crossing is a major bottleneck in the regional road network of England, being the easternmost road tunnel and bridge crossing the River Thames, and the only road crossing east of London. As such, the crossing is susceptible to major traffic congestion and disruption in the event of accidents or bad weather. The next nearest road crossings to the west are the Woolwich car ferry and the (dual bore) Blackwall Tunnel, both well within the East London suburban area. The proposed Thames Gateway Bridge between these two crossings and the Dartford crossing was given planning permission in December 2004, but was later cancelled in November 2008[2]. The Lower Thames Crossing is a tentative proposal for a crossing, most likely a tunnel, to the east of the Dartford crossing.

In October 2009, the Government announced its intention to sell the crossing as part of a public sector deficit reduction strategy.[3]

Contents

History

Annual traffic levels across the Dartford Crossing

The idea for a tunnel crossing was first promoted by Kent and Essex councils in 1929. A pilot tunnel was completed in 1938, although World War II meant the tunnel was not completed to full diameter and opened to traffic until 1963. Tolls had been in place since the opening of the first tunnel, and were enacted to pay for the construction of the scheme.

After rapid increases in traffic, a second tunnel was initiated, and opened in 1980, allowing each tunnel to handle one direction of traffic. Connection of the crossing to the M25 was completed on the northerly Essex side in 1981 (Junction 31), and to the southerly Kent side in 1986 (Junction 1a).

In an early example of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI), under the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act 1988 control of the crossing passed from Kent and Essex councils to Dartford River Crossing Limited in 1988, who would fund the construction of the QEII bridge and take on the remaining debt from construction of the tunnels.

In 1991 The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge was opened. The PFI scheme allowed DRC Ltd a 20 year concession to collect revenue, although this could be ended early once debts were repaid. Under the scheme, some parties had expected that the government of the time would scrap the toll once the debt had been repaid and a suitable maintenance fund had been accumulated[4], which was deemed to have occurred on 31 March 2002.

A fee was retained however under the new principle of Road User Charging, which had been introduced in the 2000 Transport Act as a means of using road pricing for controlling traffic congestion and funding local and national transport schemes. Under this act, the A282 Trunk Road (Dartford-Thurrock Crossing charging scheme) Order 2002 allowed the continuation of the crossing fee, which officially became a charge and not a toll on 1 April 2003. At the same time, under the terms of the 1988 Act the DRC company was liquidated and management of the crossing was contracted to Le Crossing Company Limited on behalf of the Highways Agency. Under the new user charge regime, Le Crossing collects the charges which are set in statutory Charging Orders under the 2000 Act, with the revenue passing in full to the government for redistribution, and annual public accounts of the operation published showing expenses/revenues of the crossing.

For the period of April 2007 to March 2008, a total of 53,240,629 vehicles used the crossing, at a daily average of 145,466 vehicles[5] . This represented a fall back to pre-2002 levels, from averages approaching 150,000 since the turn of the millennium[5]. The highest recorded daily usage was 181,990 vehicles on 23 July 2004[5].

On the 13th of September 2009 the contractors of the Dartford River Crossing (Le crossing) changed to Connect Plus M25, which again is made up of a consortium of Atkins, Egis, Skanska, and Balfour Beatty.

Charges and DART-Tag

The DART-Tag.

The charge payment booths for both directions of travel are located on the south side of the crossing. Charges can be paid in cash or through a pre-paid DART-Tag.

The cash charges vary for the type of vehicle, falling into standard categories for cars, larger two-axle vehicles and larger vehicles with more than two axles, but are free for motorcycles.[6] Cash can be collected in person at a booth, or dropped into an automatic hopper, although the hoppers do not accept 1p and 2p coins. Under the 2008 Charging Order introduced on 15 November 2008, charges between 10pm and 6am were scrapped, although standard daytime rates increased (from £1 to £1.50 for cars).

The DART-Tag is a device that enables drivers to pass the payment booths without having to pay cash, and provides discounted charge rates. Normally inserted into a holster that is stuck to the inside of a vehicle's windscreen, it is detected by sensors at the payment booths and automatically deducts the charge from the driver's pre-paid account. People who use this pre-paid system save money per trip. The prices for a DART-Tag account holder are £1 for a car per crossing, £1.75 per trip for a van (a vehicle without windows behind the driver's or passenger's seats) and £3.20 for a multi-goods vehicle. Although the DART-Tag device is free and available to anyone, the tag remains the property of the Dartford Crossing and if lost/stolen or damaged would be charged for.

On 15 November 2008, a local residents' scheme was introduced for car drivers resident in the Dartford and Thurrock council areas. For an annual registration fee of £10, they are entitled to 50 free crossings and additional crossings at 20p.[7]

Failure or refusal to pay the charge is a criminal offence under section 22 of The Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act 1988.

Non-motor traffic

Pedal powered cyclists and pedestrians are allowed to use the crossing for free, and are conveyed with their bicycles across the crossing in transport provided by the tunnel authority.

Safety

The transport of hazardous goods through the crossing is governed by the European ADR Agreement. Oversize and abnormal loads are escorted through the tunnel.

The tunnel must hold regular live exercises in conjunction with the emergency services. In 2006 Exercise Orpheus was held, involving the planned closure of both road tunnels.

Traffic officers

The tunnel has been patrolled by Highways Agency Traffic Officers, since 12 September 2009. Previous to this date traffic officers were appointed by the crossing operator.[8]

Traffic officers may stop and direct traffic within the crossing and, so far as is necessary for the performance of any of their duties, on the approach roads.[8] Traffic officers must be in uniform to exercise their powers.[8]

Tunnel equipment

Low power transmitters for some radio stations and transceivers for some mobile phone operators are located inside the tunnels[citation needed].

High Speed One

The high speed rail line HS1 from Kent to north London intersects the crossing approach roads on the north side of the river, at a near right angle. At the intersection, the Thurrock Viaduct carries the railway line over the tunnel approach roads, but under the bridge approach, allowing traffic on the bridge a view of the rail line. The railway line then crosses the river in a tunnel to the east of the crossing, but this tunnel is bored in an east-west direction, as opposed to the crossings north-south tunnel alignment, due to the proximity of the downstream west to north bend in the river at Greenhithe.

Strategic road connections are possible from the M25 to the line via the nearby Ebbsfleet International station, allowing onward travel into London or into France and Europe.

Media

The bridge has been featured briefly in the British films Four Weddings and a Funeral and also in Essex Boys. It also appears in the opening credits of the police drama Thief Takers.

London Transport cycle buses

London Transport ordered five double decker buses based on the Ford Thames Trader for special duties, taking cyclists through the Dartford Tunnel. These had a lower deck purpose-built for carrying bicycles, with the upper deck for cyclists. Unusually, these buses had their stairwell several feet above the level of the road, accessible by a ladder. The service was later dropped in 1965, owing to lack of cycle traffic and possibly the design. One of these buses has been saved for preservation.

Other public bus routes that have used the crossing, and since ceased, were the Eastern National 402 (Southend-Dartford/Kings Cross), and the Dartford-Basildon 'Thames Weald' Express.

Since 2003, there has been a public bus service through the Dartford Crossing; the X80 provided by Ensignbus, which links Thurrock with Bluewater.

See also

References

  1. ^ The M25 is not a complete loop, officially the crossing and its approach road are designated as the A282 road, (the Canterbury Way), to allow traffic prohibited from motorways to use the crossing
  2. ^ "Mayor outlines ten year plan for massive transport expansion". Mayor of London. http://www.london.gov.uk/view_press_release.jsp?releaseid=19576. Retrieved 12 November 2008. 
  3. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/oct/12/gordon-brown-public-asset-sale Guardian: Gordon Brown's fire sale of public assets to raise £16bn
  4. ^ "Motorists 'let down' by toll u-turn". BBC News. 2003-04-01. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2905225.stm. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  5. ^ a b c Highways Agency traffic statistics page, accessed 11 November 2008
  6. ^ http://www.dart-tag.co.uk/nossl/index.php?page=charges_and_discounts
  7. ^ http://www.dart-tag.co.uk/nossl/index.php?page=lrscheme
  8. ^ a b c http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/ukpga_19880020_en_4#pt3-pb3-l1g28

External links

Coordinates: 51°27′53″N 0°15′32″E / 51.46459°N 0.25878°E / 51.46459; 0.25878

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