Plans to build a £6bn road tunnel deep under the Pennines – and reduce congestion on the busy M62 – have taken a step forward with a new report shortlisting five potential routes.
A trans-Pennine road tunnel – billed as the most ambitious road scheme undertaken in the UK for more than 50 years – would link the M1 near Sheffield with the M60 at Manchester, halving journey times between the two cities.
The government report said it could also provide a faster link for motorists living south of Huddersfield – with one option crossing the Peak District National Park and linking with M1 in the area between the A635 and the A628 at junction 37 close to Silkstone, near Barnsley.
However, a campaign group opposing the scheme described it as “a folly too far.”
The Trans-Pennine tunnel study was launched by the government last autumn. The latest 115-page report said there was “the continued strong case for the tunnel which could provide safer, faster and more reliable journeys for motorists” and which it says could be a national first.
The report said the tunnel could bring economic benefits to the two cities and the wider surrounding area. The link would help protect the environment by reducing traffic through the Peak District National Park and support the government’s plan to build a Northern Powerhouse.
The report said analysis suggested the tunnel would have a dual carriageway with at least two lanes in each direction – based on current traffic flows.
The tunnel section of the new trans-Pennine link could be 10 to 19 miles long – making it one of the biggest road tunnels ever built.
The two longest road tunnels in the world are the 15-mile Lærdal Tunnel in Norway, which opened in 2000, and the 22-mile Zhongnanshan Tunnel in China, which opened in 2007.
The report said: “Constructing a new route between Manchester and Sheffield under the Pennines is technically feasible, although the most effective route options are yet to be considered.”
It added: “Operating and maintaining the new rose link – a considerable proportion of which would be tunnel – presents challenges, but is feasible in principle.”
Transport Minister John Hayes said: “I want people in the north of England to benefit from quicker, more reliable journeys.
“Today’s study brings us a step closer to building a trans-Pennine roads tunnel. It would be the most ambitious project since the construction of the first motorways 50 years ago.
“We are already spending £15bn on the biggest upgrade to the road network for generations. This next phase is aimed at creating more vital links, creating jobs and opportunities and helping hardworking families across the country feel the benefits of our investment.”
The study is part of the government’s next phase of road improvements which will get under way from 2020. The current Road Investment Strategy period covers 2015 to 2020.
The study is due to be completed by the end of 2016 when the strategic and economic cases for each of the five options will be assessed and cost estimates will be provided.
However, Bridget Fox, of Campaign for Better Transport said: “Building new roads generates new traffic, adding to pollution and congestion in communities at either end, undermining the good work done to make Manchester and Sheffield city centres more liveable.
“Constructing multiple ventilation shafts in the Peak District National Park would be hugely damaging and there are many safety and security questions still unanswered.
“Few commuters would want to make this journey twice a day, while for freight – trans-Pennine rail for example – making use of the existing Woodhead Tunnel is a much more practical option.
“This extortionate scheme is a folly too far. The enormous sums of money and expertise being spent on this speculative exercise would be better used on proven solutions and improving everyday travel.”