Published: 00:00, 11 December 2016
The Dartford Crossing will be operating at an estimated 120% capacity by the time a new Lower Thames Crossing is built.
Responding to written questions on congestion in Dartford from the town’s MP Gareth Johnson, transport minister John Hayes revealed figures showing that the average daily traffic flow at the crossing would be close to 160,000 vehicles in 2025.
That compares to 140,000 vehicles in 2014, with the average 2016 daily flow just shy of 135,000, which is the crossing’s designed capacity. The total number of crossings in 2025 is predicted to be 59 million.
Mr Johnson said the figures were further proof that building another crossing in Dartford would be “catastrophic” for the area.
“We need to keep the pressure up on government to convince them how foolish it would be to build at Dartford,” he said.
“These are estimates, but they are very worrying. The area can’t cope with the traffic volumes as they are, let alone with how much they are predicted to increase.”
Motorists have endured 14 closures at the crossing in the past 12 months, with the QEII Bridge shut six times.
Four of those were due to high winds, which included 11-hour delays as a result of Storm Imogen in February.
The other two closures were caused by a police operation and a woman committing suicide.
The tunnels have been shut four times – two due to fires – and police have shut the carriageway on the approach on four occasions.
On average, traffic has been stopped at the crossing to allow control vehicles to escort hazardous loads more than 2,000 times a month so far this year.
Mr Johnson continued: “We have got to have work carried out by Highways England to ensure that the local roads are able to cope with the traffic flows while we are waiting for the new crossing.
“Highways England need to be very innovative about this.
“We need them to be radical to deal with this problem. It’s imperative that the council, myself, Highways England, Kent Police and Kent County Council get together and that we have a multi-agency approach to the problem.”
“We need to keep the pressure up on government to convince them how foolish it would be to build at Dartford" Gareth Johnson
All of those mentioned met last month to discuss potential ideas for how to combat the town’s congestion nightmare, with Dartford councillors keen to see some of the Dart Charge income spent on a police presence at busy junctions.
Mr Johnson highlighted the Blue Star roundabout and junction 1A of the M25 as particularly problematic areas that could benefit from officers to help manage the traffic flow.
Dart Charge is the payment system that replaced the toll booths in November 2014 and it has come in for criticism since being introduced, despite Highways England’s insistence that it has improved journey times over the crossing.
The Dart Charge Post Opening Project Evaluation (POPE) report, which will include an assessment of air quality, will be completed by the Department for Transport in spring 2017.
Speculation was rife in the build-up to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement last month that plans for a new Lower Thames Crossing were set to be announced, but no news was forthcoming.
The government’s target from earlier this year to confirm the crossing’s location “in the autumn” has been missed, but Mr Johnson is still confident the Gravesend crossing will be approved.
He said: “We are expecting an announcement to be made soon. The consultation attracted more responses than High Speed Two or even the airport expansion at Heathrow.
“I think I am right in saying that it’s the biggest consultation the Department for Transport has ever received. They are looking at it very carefully.
“We are pushing them hard that they should follow the recommendation Highways England have made and build a Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend. We cannot carry on like this.
"Hopefully we can get a resolution to it. We are not letting up all the way until a decision is made.”