Castles in the Air, or Tunnels under London?

Boris Johnson has proposed two new east-west tunnels under London to reduce congestion by up to 20 per cent. With the population of London still growing rapidly, and measures such as the cycle superhighways reducing road space for vehicles on key east-west routs, the Mayor of London invited TfL (Transport for London) to look into using tunnels to relieve congestion last year.

TfL have suggested that two major routes be examined in detail – one running from the A40 at Park Royal in the west to the A12 at Hackney Wick in the east, and one running from the A4 at Chiswick to the A13 in Beckton. In addition there are proposals for “flyunders” at various locations such as on the A13 at Barking and to replace the Hammersmith flyover.

The Mayor is calling for the Government to divert some of the Vehicle Excise Duty they collect from Londoners (about £500 million per year) to help finance these schemes.

Comment: After managing to seriously damage the road network of London during his time as Mayor (by removing road space in favour of cyclists, removing gyratory schemes that actually helped traffic flows, and lots of other minor degradations such as closing roads) he is leaving this as a parting shot to his electorate before moving onto to higher things. Will such major investments in cross-London tunnels actually happen in your or my lifetime? It seems exceedingly unlikely from the past experience of long term planning in London. Tunnels have been used successfully in Boston, USA and in cities in Scandinavia but they are exceedingly expensive. We certainly have the technology to build such tunnels now relatively quickly, as is apparent from the Crossrail project, but is it likely that the idea for tunnels will be pursued by his successor as Mayor? With the two main candidates competing on their “environmental” credentials, it seems unlikely they will work hard to obtain the required funding even if they were advised to take on these projects.

Roger Lawson

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