Mersey Gateway

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Mersey Gateway Bridge
Runcorn bridges aerial.jpg
The Mersey Gateway, with the older Silver Jubilee Bridge in the distance
Coordinates 53°21′11″N 2°42′00″W / 53.353°N 2.700°W / 53.353; -2.700Coordinates: 53°21′11″N 2°42′00″W / 53.353°N 2.700°W / 53.353; -2.700
Carries A533 A533 road
Crosses River Mersey
Locale Halton
Maintained by Halton Borough Council
Website www.merseygateway.co.uk
Followed by Silver Jubilee Bridge
Characteristics
Design Cable-stayed
Trough construction Concrete and steel
Pier construction Concrete
Total length 2.2 km (1.4 miles)
Width 60 metres (200 ft)
Height 125 metres (410 ft)
Longest span 300 metres (980 ft)
Piers in water 3
Load limit 53,000+ tonnes
Clearance below 25 metres (82 ft)
No. of lanes 6
History
Architect Knight Architects
Engineering design by COWI
Constructed by Merseylink CCJV – Kier Infrastructure and Overseas
FCC Construccion
Samsung C&T ECUK Consortium
Construction start May 2014
Construction end October 2017
Construction cost £600 million [1]
Opened October 14, 2017 (2017-10-14)
Replaces Silver Jubilee Bridge (closed to vehicles for reconfiguration remains open for pedestrian and cycle access)
Statistics
Toll £2 cars/small vehicles (£1.80 for those who have registered)
up to £8 HGVs[2]
Mersey Gateway Bridge is located in Cheshire
Mersey Gateway Bridge
Mersey Gateway Bridge
Location in Cheshire

The Mersey Gateway is a multimillion-pound transport scheme between Runcorn and Widnes in Cheshire, England. The main part of the project was the construction of the "Mersey Gateway" toll bridge spanning the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. The crossing, which opened in October 2017, has three traffic lanes in each direction. It is approximately 1.5 km (1 mile) east of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge.

The project also includes major civil engineering work realigning the existing road network, constructing new interchanges and landscaping 9 km (6 miles) of highway.[3]

Planning and construction

When the first Runcorn bridge opened in 1961 (renamed the Silver Jubilee Bridge in 1977), it replaced the Widnes–Runcorn Transporter Bridge, a 19th-century steam-powered cable-truss transporter that carried four cars in 2½ minutes across the Mersey between Runcorn and Widnes.[4] The replacement crossing was designed to carry 8,000 vehicles per day; however, 50 years later more than 80,000 vehicles were using the through arch bridge and surrounding road network daily, ten times its expected capacity.[5] A new crossing was therefore deemed both vital and necessary by Halton Borough Council. Moreover, it believed "better connectivity, more consistent journey times and improved accessibility, combined with a much improved physical urban environment would make Halton a better place to live and work, and [..] invest".[6]

In 2001 Ramboll was appointed the lead technical consultant on the project. It worked as part of a technical advisor team composed of CH2M, Ramboll, IBI and Knight Architects, to support the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board with the technical and contractual administration of the project and to help it fulfil its contractual obligations.[7]

In June 2010, the project was put on hold awaiting the outcome of the Treasury's Spending Review. In October 2010 it was confirmed by Chancellor George Osborne that the £431m plan would go ahead.[8] During the 2014 Budget, Osborne announced a £270m guarantee for the project.[9]

After extensive site preparation, construction work began on 7 May 2014 and the bridge opened to traffic just after midnight on 14 October 2017.[10]

Design

Bridge construction in June 2016 (top) and March 2017 (bottom).

The new bridge has three towers that support a cable-stayed crossing over the river while the southern approach creates a second bridge over the ship canal. The three towers are different heights: an 80 m (260 ft) central pylon, a 110 m (360 ft) pylon on the north side and a 125 m (410 ft) south pylon.[5] The crossing's total length is 2.3 km (1.4 miles) and its river span is 1 km (0.6 miles).[11] The deck is made from reinforced concrete with a maximum clearance of 23 m (75 ft) above the river.[5] As the water depth was too low at this point for marine construction vessels, a 1.5 km (1-mile) trestle was built out into the Mersey to drive in the bridge's pilings.[5]

New road infrastructure was built to connect the bridge to the current highway network. An interchange and a junction were built to join the southern end to Runcorn's existing Central Expressway. On the northern side, the old route of the A563 was demolished and replaced with a dual carriage to Speke Road. Embankments on the Widnes side were constructed from decontaminated material excavated along the route from historical industrial brownfield sites: treating and reusing the material meant that it did not need to be removed from the construction zone.[5] The new crossing was expected to improve journey times by up to 10 minutes during peak times compared to the old bridge.[11]

A 28.5 ha (70-acre) nature reserve was established around the bridge and the surrounding riverside, managed by the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust, an independent charity tasked with promoting biodiversity, landscape, science, and educational opportunities.[12] This scheme, which will help conserve important ecological sites such as the Astmoor salt marshes, is part of the 1,600 ha (4,000-acre) Upper Mersey Estuary project that covers everything between the Mersey Gateway Bridge as far as Warrington.[13]

Operation

Driving north on the Mersey Gateway

Tolls and charges

As of January 2018 the fee for an unregistered car to cross the Mersey Gateway is £2; for a van or small lorry the single charge is £6 and for a larger lorry or bus £8. Local buses (during the closure of the Silver Jubilee Bridge) and motorcycles are exempt from the tolls. Discounts are available for registered users, and eligible Halton residents can pay an annual £10 administration fee and make unlimited personal trips at no further cost.[2]

Halton Borough Council has stated that the Silver Jubilee bridge – although previously free to use – will require a toll like the Mersey Gateway bridge on completion of the scheme.[11] The old bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction for vehicles and the remaining carriageways converted to a pedestrian/cycleway.[11] The Mersey Gateway scheme makes Halton the only borough in England to be separated by only toll bridges. However, most Halton residents are exempt from charges if they pay an annual subscription to register their vehicles.[14] The local authority said the bridge is expected to be paid off in 25 years at which point a review on tolls would be conducted. Chris Grayling, the UK's current Transport Minister in 2017, said that he expected that once "the bridge is paid for, the tolls go".[15] However, the Queensway Tunnel in Liverpool has created a contradictory regional precedent: "residents were originally told [tunnel] tolls would be removed when debts were repaid".[16] Keith Brown of the Scottish National Party (SNP) noted that the new £1.35billion Queensferry Crossing that opened in Scotland in August 2017 is a project of a similar scale but is free to use.[17] A Scottish MSP was also critical of the Runcorn Bridge project when he noted in a report to the Scottish Parliament that the Queensferry Bridge near Edinburgh was longer than the Mersey Gateway but still a third cheaper to build.[18]

Overall there has been a mixed response to the new Mersey crossing, with some people welcoming the new bridge but many bemoaning the costs.[19] Protests were staged opposing the decision to implement tolls on both crossings before the new bridge opened.[20] Campaigners believe the extra transport costs will have a detrimental effect on the area and its economy.[21] Taxi drivers have complained that the toll will prove unpopular with their customers because it will mean fare rises.[22] In the first month of opening more than 50,000 drivers received a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). Some claimed to be unaware of how to pay the toll since no signage of how to pay was evident nor a telephone number supplied to pay the toll.[23] One driver who repeatedly used the bridge without paying the toll received 28 PCNs totalling £616. After claims that Merseyflow was in breach of both the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, their PCNs were quashed on appeal in favour of a payment of £56 for the crossings made.[24]

On 10 April 2018 it was announced that the outcome of an appeal against penalty charges heard by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal had concluded that the establishment of tolls and charges had not been properly implemented as the Council had failed to correctly follow the required commencement processes and failed to properly specify the charges for use.[25] The Council is expected to appeal the decision which has the potential to invalidate all tolls levied until the processes are properly concluded.

Additional charges

If a vehicle has a breakdown whilst on the bridge, recovery is only permitted by a designated authorised company. No roadside repairs, refuelling or tyre changing is permitted unless by special permission. The recovered vehicle will be taken to an appropriate place where it will be impounded until the recovery and storage fees are paid. Fees at present are a minimum of £150 plus VAT for a small vehicle.[26][27]

Future road improvements

In conjunction with the Mersey Gateway Project, proposals have been made to create a new junction on the M56. The aim is to improve the new bridge's connectivity in the Runcorn area, to help tackle the problems of current and future congestion, and to relieve the pressure on the present motorway junction (12).[28] In September 2017, Highways England announced that the new junction would be located next to Murdishaw roundabout, where the A533 crosses over the M56.[29] Work is expected to begin on Junction 11a in March 2020.[30]

References

  1. ^ "Funding of the Mersey Gateway Project". Mersey Gateway Project. Retrieved 16 August 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "Toll Charges". Merseyflow. Retrieved 20 January 2018. 
  3. ^ "Thousands of trees and shrubs planted as major landscaping scheme gets underway". Mersey Gateway Project. 14 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Thompson, Dave (2000). Bridging the Years: The Story of Runcorn-Widnes Transporter Bridge. Widnes: Dave Thompson. pp. 12–15. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Project profile: Mersey Gateway". New Civil Engineer. 13 December 2017. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  6. ^ "THE MERSEY GATEWAY PROJECT (MERSEY GATEWAY BRIDGE) CORPORATE PROOF OF EVIDENCE" (PDF). Mersey Gateway Project. Retrieved 2 December 2017. 
  7. ^ "The Mersey Gateway – six lane toll bridge". Ramboll UK Ltd. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  8. ^ "Mersey £431m bridge plan escapes spending review cuts". BBC News. 17 October 2010. 
  9. ^ "Chancellor George Osborne's Budget 2014 speech". HM Treasury. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  10. ^ "Fireworks launch for new Mersey bridge". BBC News. 14 October 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017. 
  11. ^ a b c d "The Mersey Gateway Project" (PDF). New Mersey Gateway. Retrieved 30 July 2017. 
  12. ^ "Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust". Mersey Gateway Project. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  13. ^ "Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust Projects". Mersey Gateway Project. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 
  14. ^ "Halton Residents' Account". Merseyflow. Retrieved 2 August 2017. 
  15. ^ "'No reason' for Mersey Gateway tolls once £600m bill is paid". BBC News. 12 October 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2018. 
  16. ^ Bartlett, David (10 January 2013). "Mersey Tunnels still owe £58m but tolls income is being used elsewhere". Liverpool Echo. 
  17. ^ Clay, Oliver (6 September 2017). "Criticism of Mersey Gateway tolls as Scots cross bigger and cheaper bridge for free". Chester Chronicle. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  18. ^ Clay, Oliver (5 June 2017). "Claims new Mersey Gateway is a £500m rip-off". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  19. ^ Kirkham, Jenny (19 October 2017). "Is Mersey Gateway bridge "milking the motorist" or "technology at its best"?". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  20. ^ "Protest taking place against tolls on the new Mersey Gateway bridge". Liverpool Echo. 14 August 2017. 
  21. ^ McDougall, John (15 August 2017). "Protest held in Widnes opposing tolls on Halton's river crossings". Liverpool Echo. 
  22. ^ "Taxi drivers to protest over Mersey Gateway bridge tolls". BBC News. 24 January 2017. 
  23. ^ "Mersey Gateway toll bridge: £1m in fines issued to drivers in one month". BBC News. 21 November 2017. 
  24. ^ McMullin, Kate (1 December 2017). "How I avoided paying my 28 Mersey Gateway fines". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 1 December 2017. 
  25. ^ "Mersey Gateway Bridge toll charges 'illegal'". BBC News. 10 April 2018. 
  26. ^ "Breakdown & Recovery". Mersey Gateway Project. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  27. ^ Jordan, Barbara (14 February 2017). "EXPLAINED: All you need to know if you break down on the Mersey Gateway Bridge". Warrington Guardian. Retrieved 15 February 2018. 
  28. ^ "M56 new Junction 11a scheme" (PDF). Highways England. Retrieved 2 August 2017. 
  29. ^ "M56 new Junction 11a decision" (PDF). Highways England. Retrieved 15 September 2017. 
  30. ^ "Improvements and major road projects: M56 new junction 11a". Highways England. Retrieved 29 December 2017. 

External links

  • Mersey Gateway website
  • Detailed project description
  • Scrap Mersey Tolls – The main protest group on Facebook
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