Dartford tolls jams shock
by Mary Graham
How far do you think traffic should have to queue before the
Dartford crossing tolls are suspended - three miles, five,
Try closer to 10 miles - and that’s on both sides of the
Last week furore erupted at government plans to raise the fee
for a single car journey from £1.50 to £2 this year and again to
£2.50 in 2012.
Consultation on the proposed fees has opened and the government
was keen to stress a new trial came into effect for six months from
July 1, where the Highways Agency, which manages the crossing, is
given the power to lift the tolls in severe congestion.
But it has now emerged just what severe congestion means - 9.3
miles in Kent and 11 miles on the Essex side of the crossing.
While any lifting of the tolls would be considered on a
case-by-case basis, guidance given to the Highways Agency by the
Department for Transport suggests there has to be – or likely to be
– an emergency situation “where continuous queues extend back, or
have the potential to extend back to junction 4 of the M25
[Orpington] or junction 28 [Romford], or beyond.”
Any decision to suspend the Dartford tolls would be made by the
Highways Agency’s regional manager and regional operations
director, based on guidance from staff at the crossing.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson (Con) said: “Nearly 10 miles is too
far, and I would urge liberal application of case-by-case
“My position has not changed one jot in that I believe the tolls
should be completely scrapped.”
Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con), leader of Dartford council,
said: “Ten miles is a colossal queue and almost worthy of national
“What I want to see is someone within the Highways Agency with
the complete authority to suspend the tolls by looking out of the
window to see how bad conditions are.”
On Friday evening large queues built up. One driver Sue
Susans, said: “It looked like the barriers had lost power as the
stop-start lights were not on and we thought they would be
“We were quite close to the barriers - only 20 cars back, but it
took us 20 minutes to get through, so there must have been huge
queues behind us.”
A Highways Agency spokesman said there was no record of any
power failure at the tolls.
The charges were last suspended in March when two riders
came off their bike inside the tunnel. It was only the fifth time
in as many years the tolls were lifted.
One of those times was in August when the Queen Elizabeth
II Bridge was closed for more than three hours after a lorry caught
fire and the Dartford tunnel was used for north and southbound
Cars reached junction 4 of the M25 on the Kent side, and
junction 25 on the Essex side, something a Highways Agency
spokesman described as “exceptionally long queues.”
Cllr Matt Bryant, deputy labour leader of Dartford council said:
“Ten miles is too much. What needs to happen now is a proper
transport assessment looking at how many times there are jams and
when, and whether another Thames crossing would really help.
“I urge everyone to make their views known during the
The consultation is open until September 23. See www.dft.gov.uk