The Trans-Pennine Tunnel, one of the most ambitious road schemes to have been floated since the motorways were first constructed some 50 years ago, may well be given the green light by the government when the chancellor, Philip Hammond, gives his Autumn Statement later in the year.
However, Alan Shepherd – north-west regional director for Highways England – has warned that it will take between 20 and 25 years to build. He told Construction News that the scheme would be the biggest civil engineering project to have been undertaken in the last 30 years and could well be the longest tunnel in the world.
Mr Shepherd confirmed that the authority would start to consider larger contractors to deliver the tunnel alongside international companies such as those in Norway.
At the recent CN Summit 2016, it was agreed that east-west connectivity would be essential if the Northern Powerhouse agenda was to be met, with initiatives like the Ordsall Chord – designed to link Victoria and Piccadilly train stations in Manchester – helping to improve connectivity in general across the region.
Towards the end of August, possible routes for the tunnel were shortlisted and revealed, with Peak District roads ruled out so as to protect the region’s habitat and wildlife. The aim of the tunnel and other ongoing work is to ease road networks and make travelling across the country faster, safer and more reliable.
A report recently released by Highways England in November last year suggested that connecting Manchester and Sheffield in this way would have a “dramatic impact on the economy of the north, particularly in combination with plans for high speed rail links”. It went on to add, however, that “the invaluable landscapes and ecological significance of the Peak District National Park rule out a surface link. The only credible solution may be to construct a tunnel under the central part of the Pennines”.
The strategic case for the project revealed that the north currently lags behind the south where economic performance is concerned. Not only that but employment rates and productivity levels are lower in the north than in the south, with the productivity gap widening over time. While there are a number of medium-sized cities in the north that perform well by themselves, they lack the transport connectivity required to propel improved employment and output. That’s why it’s so vital to create a well-connected economy in the north, the report went on to state.
Earlier this month (October), the government also outlined plans to upgrade the Trans-Pennine route between Manchester and Sheffield to help reconnect communities that have been divided by busy roads. The scheme forms part of a £15 billion investment in major A roads and motorways that is being delivered by Highways England, with a consultation set to take place next year and work expected to start by spring 2020.
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