Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Transport News - Bridges Tolls and Railways.

The Department for Transport has just announced that it will provide £1.777M funding towards the ongoing repairs of the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge under its £49M Local Pinch Point funding scheme.  Its great that the DfT has responded so positively to all the lobbying Lynn and I and our MP Graham Evans have done.  I also have to pay tribute to the hard work of CWaC and the Canals and River Trust officers too in securing this useful funding.  I think it is right that the government is picking up a significant element of the costs in refurbishing the bridge

The DfT has also just announced that Network Rail is to look into the electrification of the Warrington-Chester line - which, of course serves Frodsham and the Crewe-Chester line which is vital for the economic health of our Borough.  We'll find out in about a year whether these schemes are to go ahead.

You may have picked up that Halton Borough Council has voted to place tolls on the existing Runcorn-Widnes Bridge when the new bridge opens.  This will mean that both bridges are tolled - just like the two tunnels serving Liverpool from the Wirral.  Halton Council voted to set the toll at £2 in each direction - with Halton residents given 300 'free' crossings each year.  They believe it will match the Mersey Tunnel tolls when it comes into force.

I'm unhappy about tolls - I don't like paying them.  You don't mind on the odd one-off trip but this could be quite a burden if you are having to pay day in day out.  I notice that local buses will be exempt from the tolls and this may boost the use of public transport.  If only we had the Halton Curve back in use it would be easy to commute to Liverpool from Frodsham!  The lobbying on this continues!

Halton Council's decisions was, I'm afraid, all too predictable.  We all have known since the start of the second Mersey crossing project that tolling the existing bridge was almost certainly going to happen.  It would have been daft not to toll it given that the new second crossing bridge was to be tolled.  You only have to look at the choice that people make on the M6 and the M6 Toll Motorway.  As an occasional user of the M6 Toll motorway I love the fact that it is so lightly used - and you see the vast majority of motorists choosing to stay in the 'free' but congested M6.  If Halton Council was going to relieve the traffic on the existing bridge they were going to have to put a toll on it.  I don't like it, I wish neither bridge was tolled - but having the new bridge tolled was a key factor in having the new bridge built.

What Halton Council's decision does though is to discriminate between their residents and those living outside their Borough such as in Frodsham and Helsby.  It is somewhat ironic that a scheme to boost the economy of the Liverpool region and Cheshire is likely to have a dampening effect in areas close to the bridge, but outside Halton where people make decisions about employment and their businesses factoring in having to pay the toll.

That said I know many people already factor in whether they want to cross the bridge on a daily basis given the risk of traffic jams.  I know I did when I lived one side and worked the other - and my wife does now. She works in Halton - but make sure, so far as she can that her work keeps her on the Runcorn side. 

Whatever we think about tolls I do think it is absolutely fantastic that the government is investing so heavily in our local transport infrastructure - and with the prospect of more to come too.