ONE OF the longest tunnels in Europe could be built under the Peak District to transform trans-Pennine road links between Sheffield and Manchester, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
A feasibility study into the scheme is due to be announced by Ministers this morning as part of a £15bn package of measures to transform major motorways and trunk roads in congestion of hotspots.
The package also includes a commitment to complete the smart (lane increasing) M62 motorway along the entire length from Manchester to Leeds, Together with improvements to transpennine capacity from Manchester to Sheffield, this represents the first increase in trans-Pennine capacity since 1971.
Though many of the 80 projects, like the upgrading of the A1 to motorway standard throughout North Yorkshire, have already been announced, the tunnel plan comes after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg signalled his desire to see major improvements to the Woodhead Pass which is regularly forced to close during inclement weather.
Additional overtaking lanes could also be built on the notorious A628 from north of Sheffield to Glossop. “We are talking about one of the longest road tunnels in Europe,” said a Department for Transport spokesman.
“The initial estimate is £6bn and we want to see whether the plan is feasible – or not. No one wants to put a dual carriageway through the Peak District so we are signalling a commitment to look at the alternatives. There is still a lot of work to do.”
As well as the Woodhead Pass tunnel plan, today’s strategy – a precursor to Wednesday’s Autumn Statement – also includes new proposals to reduce levels of congestion on the M62 by converting more stretches of the hard shoulder into an additional lane.
The Department for Transport now plans to extend this “smart motorway scheme” from junction 25 at Hartshead Moor to junction 20 near Oldham where work on a new widening project has just commenced.
Treasury sources are dubbing the Autumn Statement as the ‘Heineken Budget’ because it is intended to reach those areas that have yet to benefit from the economic recovery.
However most of the Yorkshire projects, including the A1 plan and the Castle Street scheme in Hull, have been announced in previous budgets.
In addition to a major tranche of road improvements, there will also be £100m, to improve cycling provision at 200 key locations as well as a commitment to cycle-proof any new schemes being developed.
Also, there will be a £300m environmental fund to mitigate carbon emission and reduce the number of people affected by serious noise pollution by 250,000.
This fund will create new charge points for low-emission vehicles every 20 miles across the road network.
Spending during the next Parliament on England’s roads network will be boosted further by maintenance funding worth more than £10bn.
A succession of Cabinet ministers backed the plans. Mr Osborne, who also announced £3bn of new funding for the NHS, said: “For years our roads have been neglected. Now that this government is fixing the economy, we can afford to invest properly in our roads – unlocking jobs for the future and local growth by creating a road network that is fit for the 21st century.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity. For too long they have suffered from under-investment. This Government has a long term plan to secure the country’s future and this £15bn roads programme is demonstration of that.”
And Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander, a senior Liberal Democrat and close colleague of Mr Clegg who has been pushing for better road and rail links in Yorkshire, added: “World class infrastructure is vital if we are to build a stronger economy, but it matters in other ways to.
“It invigorates communities and gives people more opportunities to get on in life.”
The roads package also includes more details of the already-announced plan to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company. The Government says this will mean funding can be allocated on a longer-term basis, saving the taxpayer at least £2.6 billion over the next 10 years.
There will also be £100 million to improve cycling provision at 200 key locations across the network, as well as a commitment to cycle-proof any new schemes being developed.
Also, there will be a £300 million environmental fund to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce the number of people affected by serious noise by 250,000.
This fund will create new charge points for low-emission vehicles every 20 miles across the road network, as well as enhance the landscape, protect sites of cultural or historic heritage, and reduce the impact of improving the roads on wildlife, countryside and habitats,
In addition there will be £100 million to unlock future growth and housing developments.
Spending during the next parliament on England’s roads network will be boosted further by maintenance funding worth more than £10 billion across the local and national road network.
Chancellor George Osborne said the package would “transform some of the country’s most important strategic routes”, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury and chairman of the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee Danny Alexander said it would “help unleash the economic potential of both the regions they serve and of the overall economy”.
Mr Clegg said: “You don’t make decisions like this based on a political map, you make these decisions based on the economic map and the geographic layout of our county to make sure that all parts of our country are properly linked.”
He added that the route across the Pennines would benefit an area with “lots and lots of Labour MPs”.
The AA welcomed the plans, saying it hoped this would mark an end to “the stop-start mess experienced over the last few decades”.
The CBI said the roads strategy marked “a significant milestone in our journey towards the delivery of much-needed upgrades to our existing road network, the arteries of our economy”.
But the Campaign for Better Transport said: “The plan will prove a counter-productive waste of money. There is no evidence that building new roads creates jobs or benefits the economy and plenty of evidence that it creates new traffic that just fills up the roads again.”