News & PressThe City Surveys Group - The UK's Measurement Specialists
New Mersey Gateway bridge now open
Published: 26th October 2017
This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group
The North West’s new £600 million toll bridge over the Mersey has opened with a bang. An impressive firework and lights show marked the opening of the bridge at 1 minute past midnight on Saturday 14 October – watch the video here.
At a mile and a half long, the six-lane bridge runs between Runcorn and Widnes in Cheshire. The bridge, the so-called Mersey Gateway, is an integral part of a project that aims to improve a 6 mile stretch of road through the Borough of Halton.
Hugh O’Connor, general manager at Merseylink, said the bridge was ‘opening on time and on budget’ and thanked everyone ‘who worked so hard to make that happen’.
It is hoped that the bridge will also ease congestion on the nearby Silver Jubilee Bridge, known locally as the Runcorn Bridge – now closed for twelve months to undergo conversion into a toll bridge.
The Mersey Gateway route is the biggest infrastructure and civil engineering project in England outside London, and is expected to cost £1.9 billion (including construction, maintenance and operation) per year until 2044.
The government has pledged to contribute 20% towards bridge costs, with the remaining 80% funded by tolls.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has promised that ‘when the bridge is paid for, the tolls go’ but campaigners claim charges will hit residents and local businesses hard in the meantime.
One woman worked out that it will cost her £700 per year to cross the bridge to her nursing job.
David Parr, from Halton Borough Council, stated that the council had been left with few options.
Responding to objections, he said: “We had a congested bridge and the government were saying to us, ‘if you want to reduce that congestion you need to have a toll crossing – toll bridge or no bridge’.”
The Department for Transport said the tolls were no different from the funding of the second Severn Crossing in the 1990s.
Complaints about tolls aside, the Mersey Gateway has not had the best start, with Merseyflow receiving dozens of complaints in its first few days of operation. The complaints – you guessed it – revolve mainly around the bridge’s toll payment system.
When crossing the bridge, drivers have to pay £2 each way, which they can do online, by phone or by paying £35 for an online account.
Many bridge users have expressed anger, citing problems with the payment process and a lack of clear signage. Drivers unable to pay have been told they will receive a penalty notice.
John Ryan and his wife travelled over the bridge on Saturday. The couple said they knew there was a toll but were ‘surprised when they did not see booths to pay’.
Mr Ryan commented: “We thought that maybe the toll wasn’t up and running yet because it was the first day. It was only afterwards that someone said we had to do it online that we realised, but the signs on the bridge are wholly inadequate. I rang and offered to pay but was told it was too late and an automatic penalty notice had been processed.”
Commuter Lisa Stewart will be using the bridge a couple of times a week. She crossed the bridge on Monday and paid the registration fee after crossing, believing her £4 toll would be taken out of it.
However, when she checked her account and saw that no money had debited, she rang Merseyflow to be told she too would receive a penalty notice.
She said: “It is ridiculous, it is not like I haven’t given them money.”
A spokesperson for Merseyflow said: “We have been contacted by a small number of people who have had difficulties with the website and were concerned that they might be fined as the new system bedded in.
“No penalty charge notices have yet been issued and we’d like to reassure our customers that no-one who has successfully registered or paid will receive a fine.”