Press release

Dartford-Thurrock river crossing improvements

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Dartford-Thurrock river crossing improvements announced and charges suspension announced.

Plans to tackle congestion at the Dartford-Thurrock crossing and invest in major improvements have taken an important step forward as Roads Minister Mike Penning today launched a consultation into proposed charge increases.

The minister also confirmed that tomorrow the Highways Agency (HA) will start a 6 month trial of revised operational arrangements for suspending Dartford Crossing charges to help traffic flow when an emergency has created particularly severe congestion.

The government is clear that reducing congestion at this vital transport link for the UK economy is an absolute priority.

To allow for the investment this needs the government announced in last year’s spending review that it intends to increase Dartford charges this year and next. Today the consultation has been launched into the proposed increases.

Mike Penning said:

The Dartford-Thurrock river crossing is a vital piece of transport infrastructure that has brought huge economic benefits and opportunities to the country. But the simple fact is many more motorists want to use the crossing than it was designed for and this leads to frequent lengthy delays, frustration and damage to the economy.

Unless urgent action is taken this situation will only get worse with traffic expected to increase. That is unacceptable.

It is clear that in the absence of the proposed increased revenues, we would not have been able to prioritise improvements which will benefit millions of road users. We are committed to introducing free flow charging to reduce congestion and explore provision of new additional crossing capacity. I also understand how frustrating it is when an emergency incident causes major delays around the crossing. That is why from tomorrow the Highways Agency will trial new operational guidelines for suspending charges to help traffic flow when congestion is particularly severe.

Subject to consultation, the proposal is that cash payments would increase for cars from £1.50 to £2 in late 2011 and to £2.50 in spring 2012. For 2 axle goods vehicles cash payments would increase from £2 to £2.50 in late 2011 and to £3 in spring 2012. For heavy goods vehicles they would increase from £3.70 to £5 in late 2011 and to £6 in spring 2012.

The government recognises the important role of pre-payment in bringing about shorter transaction times and therefore intends maintaining the existing levels of discount for those paying in advance using the Dart-Tag system.

The local residents’ discount scheme will also be retained with no changes to the levels of charges.

The public consultation will run until Friday 23 September.

The revised operational arrangements for the suspension of charges will allow charges to be suspended in one or both directions, on a case by case basis, at times of defined levels of severe congestion.

During the trial, drivers will not be charged to use the crossing if it is assessed that the suspension of the charge would help relieve the build-up of queues and congestion caused by an emergency situation.

Notes to editors

A written ministerial statement announcing the Dartford crossing charge consultation has been released.

A road user charge has been collected at the crossing since 2003 using powers in the Transport Act 2000 with the purpose of managing the high demand for use of the crossing. The Transport Act 2000 also provides that revenues from a road user charge must be spent on transport.

The current charges have been in place since November 2008, which was the first time they were revised since their introduction as a road user charge in 2003. They are set out in the A282 Trunk Road (Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Charging Scheme) Order 2008 (Statutory Instrument 2008/1951).

The Department for Transport announced its intention to consult on increased crossing charges in the context of the outcome of the spending review in October 2010.

New charges require the making of a new charging order in accordance with the procedural requirements set out in Trunk Road Charging Schemes (Bridges and Tunnels)(England) Procedure Regulations 2001 (Statutory Instrument 2001/2303).

Accordingly a notice has been placed in the London Gazette, Thurrock Gazette and Dartford Messenger. In addition, the department has made the relevant documents available for public inspection at the offices or Thurrock and Dartford councils and on the web

The proposed charge rates are set out in the table below:

Dartford Crossing Day Charges (6am-10pm) Note: no charges apply 10pm-6am      
  Current Proposed Proposed
    2011 2012
Motorbikes Free Free Free
Cash charge      
Cars £1.50 £2 £2.50
2 Axle Goods £2 £2.50 £3
Multi Axle Goods £3.70 £5 £6
Dart-Tag charge      
Cars £1 £1.33 £1.67
2 Axle Goods £1.75 £2.19 £2.63
Multi Axle Goods £3.20 £4.33 £5.19

The current protocol to suspend the charge is only implemented in exceptional emergency circumstances to facilitate the safe movement of traffic or in the interests in the safety of the public, in accordance with the Transport Act 2000 (section 172A).

The revised arrangements which are being trialled for 6 months from July 1 2011 set out the conditions which have to exist for a senior HA official to consider whether the Dartford Crossing charge can be suspended on a case by case basis. The conditions are that there has been or is likely to be an emergency situation, where continuous queues extend back - or have the potential to extend back - to the junctions 4 or 28 of the M25 or beyond, and where the suspension of the charge would ease the congestion and assist in managing the emergency situation.

Until now the exceptional emergency decision to suspend charges has been made by a senior HA official based on their judgement of the network performance and their assessment of the emergency situation. The trial arrangement will look to provide greater clarity in formalising those procedures.

The six month trial will allow HA to examine how successfully the arrangements operates and gain further knowledge of the costs and benefits in dealing with emergency situations.

During any charge suspension, the barriers continue in their ‘nodding’ operation. This enables safe traffic flow control into the northbound tunnels and over the QEII bridge and is faster to implement.

Details of the operational arrangement to be trialled.

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