The crucial role of the Dartford Crossing in keeping goods and people moving during and after the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic has been revealed in new data released by Highways England.
The figures show that despite the unprecedented restrictions put in place in England, the crossing regularly carried more traffic than it was designed for and now carries more food and goods than ever before.
The Dartford Crossing is one of the UK’s most important strategic roads, linking some of the country’s key manufacturing centres, distribution hubs and ports. Built almost 60 years ago, it has a total design capacity of 135,000 vehicles a day, but it carries more than 180,000 on its busiest days.
The new traffic data highlights that whilst the measures put in place to manage the Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on traffic levels throughout the UK, traffic has quickly returned to levels last seen before the pandemic. The demand on the Dartford Crossing remained high throughout the pandemic.
Goods vehicles travelling through the crossing continued to play a vital role moving essential goods to supermarkets and homes. With the changing working and shopping patterns in England, 42% of vehicles using the Dartford Crossing are now goods vehicles, compared with 33% in 2019. The crossing saw its busiest day ever for HGV traffic in December 2020.
Dartford Crossing traffic has now returned to levels last seen before the pandemic, as traffic flows have rapidly bounced back to overcapacity.
Following the first national lockdown in March 2020, traffic levels on the Dartford Crossing dropped dramatically by 62.5%, from 182,658 in April 2019 to 68,288 on the equivalent day in 2020, however for the majority of 2020 the crossing was operating at or above its design capacity.
Matt Palmer, Executive Director for the Lower Thames Crossing, said: “These figures show the case for the Lower Thames Crossing (proposed southern tunnel entrance looking north is seen below) is stronger than ever.
“Despite improvements and 24-hour monitoring, the Dartford crossing is still over design capacity and that inevitably causes congestion and delays.
“The Lower Thames Crossing would almost double road capacity crossing the Thames east of London, providing a reliable connection that will add billions to the economy. But it also has a more immediate role in the economic recovery from Covid-19 by creating tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of opportunities for local people and businesses in its construction.”
This update comes as a new survey revealed that almost nine out of ten Dart Charge business account holders support the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, which would relieve congestion and improve air quality by diverting over 13 million vehicles away from Dartford every year.
The Dart Charge business account survey found that 88% of the 2,299 businesses who responded to the survey support the Lower Thames Crossing. 82% believe that current traffic congestion is a major challenge for their business, and 89% said they would value an alternative road crossing of the River Thames, east of the Dartford Crossing.
The Lower Thames Crossing will provide major relief by removing a large amount of traffic travelling east from the present crossings. The proposed Lower Thames Crossing will almost double road capacity between Kent, Thurrock, Havering and Essex.
Highways England is in the middle of its Community Impacts Consultation for the Lower Thames Crossing, which runs from 14 July until 8 September, before submitting a Development Consent Order application later this year. If given the green light, construction is expected to start in 2024 and take around six years, with a target opening date between 2029 and 2030.
Full details of the consultation are available on the consultation web site which can be reached here