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First look inside Silvertown tunnel as TfL confirms summer 2025 opening

Motorists will have to pay tolls to use two tunnels under the Thames in little over a year, Transport for London have confirmed.

It said the £2bn Silvertown tunnel would open in “summer 2025” – at which time tolls, charged at the same rate, will also be introduced on the nearby Blackwall tunnel.

TfL granted the Evening Standard access to the Silvertown tunnel site last week to show how work – which is four years behind the original opening date envisaged by previous mayor Boris Johnson – is progressing.

The tunnel boring machine completed its “return journey” digging the two tunnels last August. The route extends from the Royal Docks – only a few hundred yards from City Hall – on the north side of the Thames to north Greenwich, adjacent to the southbound exit from the Blackwall tunnel.

TfL’s contractors are now completing the “cut and cover” sections to link the tunnels to the existing road network.

While this is being done, the southbound exit and northbound approach to the Blackwall tunnel have been reduced from three lanes to two – worsening the delays that Mayor Sadiq Khan uses to justify pressing ahead with the Silvertown tunnel construction in the face of environmental concerns.

Construction is costing about £1bn – with a further £1.2bn due in annual repayments over the next 25 years under the PFI contract that TfL signed in preference to paying for the work outright, in order to prevent cash being diverted from Tube upgrades and extensions.

David Rowe, TfL’s director of investment planning, said the tunnel would lead to a “much improved situation in terms of better air quality”.

 (PA)
(PA)

Each tunnel will have two lanes – one for buses and the other for cars and lorries. Cyclists will be banned from riding through the tunnel. Instead they will be able to load their bike onto a cyclists-only bus.

TfL is due to announce this autumn the amount that drivers will be charged to use the tunnels. A levy of about £4 per crossing is expected for cars, though local drivers may receive discounts.

Mr Rowe said: “Having Silvertown will ensure people have a reliable way to cross the river. The user charge ensures we don’t attract any more vehicles to this part of London but that we do enable more trips by public transport.

“This scheme is fundamentally three things: it’s the new crossing, it’s the user charge and it’s the new cross-river bus services. You are not attracting more traffic but you are solving the problems you have got with congestion. These are the critical three elements that all need to work together to ensure the success of the scheme.”

At present, the Blackwall tunnels – which link the A2 and A12 - are used by about 100,000 vehicles a day, with drivers not having to pay a toll.

Asked if he was sure building the Silvertown tunnel was still the “right thing to do”, Mr Khan told the Standard: “Absolutely.”

He said: “I have seen the congestion. I have seen the consequences when the Blackwall tunnel is closed on a regular basis, of the east of our city not having the investment the west does.

“It’s not fair for those people in that part of London who can’t use the bus because it’s so unreliable because it goes through Blackwall tunnel. They breathe in the poison because of the congestion. When there is a five-minute delay on the Blackwall tunnel it leads to a three-mile tailback.”

He denied that the Silvertown tunnel – which, unlike the northbound Blackwall tunnel, will be big enough to be used by the biggest lorries – would lead to more HGVs driving through Greenwich and Newham.

“They will be Ulez compliant when it comes to HGVs,” he said. “We also know that most HGVs go around London because of the low emission zone.”

Dominic Leggett, of the Anti-Silvertown campaign group, said: "Whether or not Blackwall is tolled - which is a decision that's entirely up to future mayors - TfL's own figures show that opening Silvertown to general traffic now will always lock in a substantial increase in traffic, local pollution, and carbon emissions for decades to come, and undermine all the mayor's pollution and climate targets.

“Given he knows these fact, he needs to have the courage to act urgently to review the scheme, and prevent the significant harm it will otherwise do to some of London's most vulnerable residents.

“We suggest reserving the new tunnel for public transport and active travel only, which will allow this £2bn project to support his vitally important health, pollution and climate targets, rather than undermining them."