BOTH Tyne Tunnels are now up and running, bringing an end to months of misery for motorists.
After ten years of planning and four years of work on site, both tunnels are operational, meaning the entire length of the A19 is now dual carriageway.
The original Howdon-Jarrow tunnel was reopened at 10am on Monday following nine months of refurbishment, including a dedicated escape passage and new fire safety technology being installed.
And the first users of the tunnel were given a special gift – a £50 permit – with officials from North Tyneside and South Tyneside councils and the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority on hand to present them.
The £260m new Tyne crossing project – overseen by concessionnaire TT2 and contractor Bouygues Travaux Publics UK – has already had a major impact, with rush-hour queues at the tunnels down to ten minutes at the most.
North Tyneside mayor Linda Arkley said: “This is a pivotal event for North Tyneside, and for the region as a whole.
“Now that we have two vehicle tunnels carrying traffic under the Tyne, supported by the initial improvements to the junction at Silverlink, we will see a transformation of traffic flow on the A19, making a huge difference to drivers who use the route.
“The TT2 project has provided us with an enviable link to the south of the region, which can only encourage more people to live, shop and do business here, and that is fantastic news for the borough.”
David Wood, chairman of the transport authority, said: “This is another historic day for Tyne and Wear. To see traffic flowing through both Tyne Tunnels, and an end to the queues, gives me tremendous pleasure.
“This milestone is the culmination of a lot of hard work by thousands of people.
“I also look forward to the tunnels contributing to the economic growth of the area, and to improving the links between people and job opportunities.”
Nicolas Caille, project managing director for Bouygues Travaux Publics UK, added: “I feel very relieved today, seeing the two tunnels up and running.
“This has been a complex and at times challenging project, and I am very proud that we’ve been able to reopen the tunnel earlier than planned.
“We’ve worked very hard to get here, and I would like to thank everyone who has played a part in the project. This is a very proud moment.”
Trevor Jackson, managing director for TT2, said: “This is the moment we have all been waiting for.
“Not only are we able to offer our customers two state-of-the-art road tunnels to get them to their destinations quicker, I am delighted that we’ve been able to achieve this ahead of schedule.
“Our customers and neighbours have been incredibly patient during the works. I hope they’ll agree that the wait has been worthwhile.”
The Tyne Tunnel was declared the fourth worst traffic blackspot in the UK before the second tunnel was built.
Fresh calls are being made for the junctions at either end of the new Tyne Tunnels to be improved amid fears they have just moved traffic problems further up the A19.
Stephen Larkin, regional director of the Institution of Civil Engineers North East, said the opening of the two tunnels, a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, was a major landmark in the process of boosting traffic flow on one of the region’s most stretched highway routes.
But he added that the road networks would only be 100 per cent effective after the junctions north and south of the crossings are upgraded, with the Silverlink junction highlighted as the one most in need.
Mr Larkin said: “It’s fantastic that both tunnels are now open, but we still have concerns on capacity issues.
“While it seems that the recent smaller-scale upgrade at Silverlink is working, we wait to see what that’s like when both tunnels are open.
“Smaller upgrades have made a difference, but we want to see larger upgrades brought forward.”