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Stephen Mulhern and Emma Willis 9am - 12pm
26 January 2016, 19:02
Plans for a multi-billion pound road tunnel under the River Thames have been unveiled.
Highways England announced its proposal for a new crossing between Essex and Kent to reduce pressure on the Dartford Crossing.
A spokesman for the organisation said the Lower Thames Crossing - which will cost an estimated £4.3 billion to £5.9 billion - would be Government-funded.
If the project goes ahead it would be the first new crossing of the Thames east of London since the Queen Elizabeth II bridge opened at Dartford 25 years ago.
Officials estimate that 77,000 vehicles would use the link each day in its first year.
It would run from the end of the M2 near Rochester, cross the river to the east of Gravesend and join the M25 between junctions 29 and 30.
A consultation on the crossing - which could be opened in a decade - is running until March 24th.
Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said it was vital the scheme goes ahead because of congestion on existing roads.
"There is a desperate need to increase capacity on this route, as anyone who uses the Dartford Crossing regularly will know. The congestion created is a daily burden for the UK economy,'' he said.
But Bridget Fox of the Campaign for Better Transport described it as a ``flawed proposal''.
She said: ``The lessons of the Dartford Crossing have not been learned.
``We do not need another expensive road crossing that will simply generate more traffic leading to more congestion, while blighting the communities on either side with more air pollution.
``The Government should be focusing on better rail links and getting more freight off road and onto rail.''
RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said he broadly welcomed the scheme but noted the importance of minimising disruption to road users during construction work.
The proposed new crossing will offer a shorter route to and from the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel.
A shortlisted option to build a bridge or tunnel next to the existing Dartford Crossing was rejected.
Roads Minister Andrew Jones said: ``The Government is committed to delivering a Lower Thames Crossing which will increase capacity and provide better, faster journeys across the Thames.
"Once complete it could add over £7 billion to the economy by increasing investment and business opportunities, and create over 5,000 new jobs nationally.''
Highways England senior project manager, Martin Potts, said the organisation wanted to strike a balance between improving journeys, getting value for money and minimising the impact on the environment.
"There are important choices to be made,'' he said. "As well as inviting comments from the public about our recommendations, we have identified three routes for the new road to the north of the river and two routes south of the river. We welcome views on them all.''