Express crossings of landmark bridge ‘will cut queues’

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DRIVERS have been promised queues will be a thing of the past when a new £7m automated system is switched on a landmark river crossing in a fortnight’s time.

The owners of around 8,000 vehicles have already applied for electronic tags which will allow people to drive across the Humber Bridge without slowing down or stopping.

It comes as bosses confirmed that tolls - it costs £3 for a return trip - could be frozen until 2030.

A loan on the bridge’s outstanding £180m debt, which had been with the Government, has been refinanced privately, saving £50m in interest over its lifetime.

Chairman of the Humber Bridge Board Coun Sean Chaytor said “tolls were unlikely to go up before 2030 at the earliest.”

The hybrid system means drivers who want to pay cash can continue to do so, although the bridge board is expecting eventually 70 per cent of drivers to switch over.

In the three years since tolls were halved traffic has risen 30 per cent and is set to continue to rise by five per cent a year.

Bridgemaster Peter Hill said: “The whole point of the electronic tolling is that it will accommodate peak flows when we do have some congestion at the moment.

“We are confident queues will be a thing of the past - as long as people sign up for a tag.

“At the moment we have about 50 per cent use of pre-paid tickets - they are the people we are expecting to move to the tag system quickly and that’s proving to be so, particularly freight.

“We do think once people see the benefits of the new system they will move across.”

Last month 587,234 cars crossed the bridge, as well as 30,588 trucks and 15,500 vans.

Coun Chaytor said the bridge had “become a victim of its own success”, and if they had not acted they would have been “swamped.”

He said it would be better for businesses, regulars as well as occasional users who would get a faster service.

The number of toll booths has been cut from six to three in each direction alongside the creation of two free flow lanes where drivers using the electronic tags will be able to cross without stopping at 30mph.

The launch will be staggered with the new system going live on November 5, and the “open road” lanes opening on November 7.

Mr Hill said hauliers “loved” the new system as a laden six-axle truck could use 50p in fuel stopping and starting again.

“Those 50ps can add up,” he added.

Motorists will be able to top up the new “pay as you go” system by direct debit online, or over the phone, as well as paying by cheque and cash.

They have to pay a £15 deposit for their HumberTAG which fits to the inside of the windscreen.

Anyone trying to use the lanes without paying will have their registration numbers picked up by automatic number plate recognition cameras and they will be sent a notice.

They will then have 24 hours to pay - and if not will face a £15 administration fee.

The overhaul of the tolling system is the first in the bridge’s 34-year history.

Once the most expensive toll crossing in the United Kingdom, in April 2012 the toll was reduced to £1.50 each way, after the Government deferred £150 million from the bridge’s debt.

The single-span suspension bridge, between Barton-on-Humber and Hessle, first opened to traffic on 24 June 1981.