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Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford Crossing opening by the Queen 30 years ago remembered


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Have you ever been stuck in standstill traffic 200ft in the air? If you haven't, chances are if you make the journey across the River Thames from Thurrock in Essex to Dartford in Kent you will.

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge which connects the two counties is celebrating its 30th birthday but three decades, £120 million and endless queues later KentOnline has taken a look back at how this landmark came to be.

Over one and a half billion journeys have been made across the Dartford Crossing since it opened in 1963
Over one and a half billion journeys have been made across the Dartford Crossing since it opened in 1963
The QEII bridge under construction
The QEII bridge under construction

On a grey and overcast autumn day on October 30, 1991, the Queen drove across the 2,872m stretch of road and officially declared it open for motorists after three years of construction which started in 1988.

Ironically, it was built as a means of easing congestion as traffic grew after the completion of the M25 in 1986 and capacity through the tunnels exceeded the maximum design of 65,000 vehicles.

According to National Highways, the crossing is now estimated to carry 50 million vehicles a year.

The bridge was the final stage of the road project with the west tunnel opening in 1963 costing £13 million, the east tunnel in 1980 at £45m and then the bridge in 1991 at £120m.

Since the opening of the first tunnel, more than one billion cars and lorries have used the crossing.

The Queen officially opened the bridge at Dartford by unveiling a monument on the Essex side in 1991
The Queen officially opened the bridge at Dartford by unveiling a monument on the Essex side in 1991
The Queen at the opening in 1991
The Queen at the opening in 1991
The Lord Lieutenant of Kent greets the Queen before the official opening in 1991
The Lord Lieutenant of Kent greets the Queen before the official opening in 1991

Under the river the infrastructure rests on reinforced concrete foundations, each of which are equivalent in volume to 400 double-decker buses and weigh a total of 85,000 tonnes.

They were constructed over in the Netherlands and were towed across the North Sea on a 150-mile journey by tugs before being sunk into position.

The bridge has a total height of 137 metres with 84 metre high steel pylons located above 53 metre high concrete piers.

At the time it had the longest cable-stayed span – a structure with one or more towers which have cables supporting the bridge deck – of bridges in Europe and was the only bridge to be built along the Thames, downstream from London since Tower Bridge in 1894 and was the longest single span bridge in Europe.

Today, the crossing has its own control room which monitors traffic and has played a crucial role in keeping goods and people moving.

The bridge celebrates its 30th birthday. Picture: Highways Agency
The bridge celebrates its 30th birthday. Picture: Highways Agency
The bridge shortly before the official opening
The bridge shortly before the official opening
Panoramic view of the bridge over looking the Kent end. Picture: National Highways
Panoramic view of the bridge over looking the Kent end. Picture: National Highways

Nicola Bell, National Highways operations director for the South East, said: "The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge together with the whole Dartford Crossing has proved to be a vital link on the M25 and a great investment in the economy, helping nearly 1.5 billion vehicles cross the river Thames over the past 50 years.

"It continues to bring huge benefits to the economy and with these benefits comes demand. The government is committed to doing all they can to ease traffic flow and improve journeys for the future."

Due to the increase in road users, plans have been proposed for the Lower Thames Crossing costing £8.2 billion which will double the road capacity across the river and ease congestion, according to National Highways.

Mark Bottomley, Lower Thames Crossing programme director, said: "The Dartford Crossing is a feat of engineering that has played a crucial role in almost every aspect of our daily lives, from delivering essential goods to our shelves and our doorsteps, to visiting friends and family or getting to work.

"The Lower Thames Crossing is its ambitious sibling: A new crossing that would almost double road capacity crossing the Thames east of London.

The Bishops of Chelmsford and Rochester meet to bless the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford in 1991
The Bishops of Chelmsford and Rochester meet to bless the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford in 1991
The bridge celebrates its 30th birthday. Picture: Highways Agency
The bridge celebrates its 30th birthday. Picture: Highways Agency
The bridge closed during its regular six week maintenance programme. Picture: National Highways
The bridge closed during its regular six week maintenance programme. Picture: National Highways

"It will not only add billions to the economy by creating a direct new connection, but also by improving the reliability of Dartford crossing, as well as improving air quality in the region, create jobs now and in the future, and new routes and spaces for the local community and wildlife."

The QEII bridge has even appeared in Hollywood blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and had songs written about it including a Christmas single called Dartford Tolls written by Simon Harris which went viral in 2018 on Facebook.

Despite this, it seems some people do have their issues with the Kent landmark.

On TripAdvsior it has earned a rating of two stars with 233 'terrible' ratings, most complaining about two things: traffic and the Dart Charge.

The toll fee was originally meant to be scrapped after the debt of the construction of the bridge was repaid yet years down the line it still remains with cars paying £2.50 for each journey and larger vehicles paying up to £6.

Dunkirk Little Ships sail along the River Thames near the bridge. Picture: Jason Arthur
Dunkirk Little Ships sail along the River Thames near the bridge. Picture: Jason Arthur
Crossing the bridge for Dartford and the southbound M25. Picture: Alan Watkins
Crossing the bridge for Dartford and the southbound M25. Picture: Alan Watkins

There were some positive reviewers on the site - 36 to be exact - who have rated the bridge five stars, describing it as "sheer class" and "spectacular".

A number commented on the view from the top of the gigantic structure adding they wished they could stop and get out of the car to admire it.

What do you think of the bridge after 30 years? Leave you comments below.

To read more of our in-depth features click here.

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