Wales

Congestion warning if Severn Bridge M4 tolls scrapped

Severn tolls Image copyright SashaFoxWalters/Getty Images
Image caption The Severn crossings are the most expensive tolls in the UK for lorries - costing £19.80

Two leading road haulage figures and an assembly member have warned that a welcome lifting of the Severn Bridge tolls could increase M4 congestion.

The businesses fear that even the proposed M4 relief road might not be wide enough to deal with extra traffic.

Denise Lovering, director of Glenside Commercials in Bedwas, Caerphilly, said that could risk damaging the image of Wales as a business destination.

Details about lifting the tolls after 2018 are expected "in due course".

Ms Lovering, an influential force in the Freight Transport Association (FTA), wants the tolls scrapped and backs the M4 relief road around Newport.

Figures from the UK government's Department for Transport (DfT) earlier this year suggested reducing the Severn Bridge tolls to £10 for lorries and £3 for cars could increase traffic by up to 17% by 2028.

BBC Wales has asked DfT if there is a projection for traffic if the tolls were scrapped completely.

It said it was "working on how it will implement its commitments and there will be announcement in due course".

The Welsh Government supports getting rid of the tolls and says it accounted for extra traffic from scrapping the tolls when it put forward its preferred route for the M4 relief road.

But Ms Lovering fears the planned expansion of the motorway, whichever route is decided as the best option, might not be big enough to cope with the increase in traffic once tolls are abolished.

Image copyright BBC/Google
Image caption Map of the proposed £1.1bn M4 Relief Road to the south of Newport

The proposed £1.1bn plans for an M4 relief road around Newport are currently being analysed by a public inquiry, which started at the end of February..

The 14.23-mile (23km) highway - three lanes in each direction - would be between the current M4 junction 23a at Magor to junction 29 near Castleton, around the Brynglas tunnels bottleneck.

Ms Lovering said: "When you look at motorways throughout the country, most new ones being built are with four lanes, not three lanes any more. So it could very well be that a decision to put a three-lane motorway now is not the right thing to do.

"We need something that's fit for purpose, future-proofed so that we're not standing here in 10 years' time saying we made the wrong decision."

Congestion is frustrating for drivers but also costs hauliers money.

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Media captionIan Jarman said there could be a "wave effect" of congestion along the M4 unless it was fit for the future

Ian Jarman, manager at Llanelli-based Owens Group, said it costs £1 a minute if a 44-tonne truck is caught in congestion and added it is commonplace for his vehicles to lose 25 minutes queuing at the Severn Crossing tolls.

Mr Jarman, vice chairman of the Freight Council in Wales, also fears that any easing of congestion from the building of the M4 relief road would be made worse again by the increase in traffic once tolls are lifted.

It was during this year's general election campaign that the Conservatives said they would scrap the tolls. Prime Minister Theresa May said it would boost the economy by £100m.

The Severn crossings transfer into public ownership in 2018. But the details of when the tolls will be lifted are not clear.

'Intolerable'

Already there are 25 million vehicle crossings a year, with revenue of about £98m a year.

There is an estimated annual maintenance and operational cost of about £15m for both Severn crossings - and £63m debt carried over from old Severn Bridge.

The Wales Office said the government was "working on how it will implement its commitments and there will be an announcement in due course".

Jenny Rathbone, the Cardiff Central AM, backs the end of the tolls but is an opponent of the relief road.

"Building new roads doesn't ease congestion it makes it worse and we shouldn't use roads as a solution," she said.

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