A major refurbishment of the Rotherhithe Tunnel will now not take place until the Silvertown Tunnel is opened in 2025. Transport for London (TfL) is holding off on the Rotherhithe Tunnel job due to capacity concerns across the River Thames, board agenda papers released ahead of this week’s Programme’s and Investment Committee meeting state. Since December 2019, vehicles more than 2m high, 2m wide or goods vehicles weighing more than 2t have banned from the Rotherhithe Tunnel as it has been deemed unsafe until repairs are carried out. Drivers that do not comply could be fined up to £130. TfL has repeatedly warned that without vital upgrades the Rotherhithe Tunnel – along with five major road bridges – faces “imminent closure”. The meeting agenda papers add: “We have completed the design work and preparation of tender documents for the detailed design and build procurement stages of the refurbishment project. “However, due to the need to retain sufficient cross river travel opportunities while the works take place at the Blackwall Tunnel (the next nearest road crossing in the east) it is now expected that the full refurbishment of Rotherhithe will not take place until after the Silvertown Tunnel opens in 2025.” The papers add that “a series of short-term capital interventions are being put in place to ensure the tunnel remains safe and operable until the main refurbishment project is progressed” .Procurement for some of the short-term capital interventions has already been completed and a contract awarded to progress feasibility work is due to be completed by February 2023.

Construction of the Silvertown Tunnel is Well Underway.

However, the board agenda papers report a one month delay to the project and warns that labour shortages and rising material costs could further impact the scheme. The restrictions to the Rotherhithe Tunnel were implemented after a detailed analysis of the ventilation system revealed that urgent repair work is needed in 2019. The installation of an over-height barrier to improve compliance of vehicles using the tunnel was carried out at the start of the year. Repairs to the Rotherhithe Tunnel are part of Transport for London’s (TfL’s) Surface Transport Asset Renewals Programme, which also includes upgrades to the A40 Westway, Vauxhall Bridge, and Lambeth Bridge. The capital’s transport operator has previously estimated that it needs a £2bn investment in its entire road network during the next 10 years to prevent key road bridges and tunnels from shutting. Last year, TfL meeting agenda papers revealed that the cost of patching up London’s surface transport assets has increased by 762% during the last five years. This includes all bridges and tunnels in the Capital as well as River Thames crossings.

TfL Attributes this increase to Delays and Budget.

cuts to its surface transport assets renewal programme, which includes major repair work to at risk structures including the Rotherhithe Tunnel, A40 Westway, Vauxhall Bridge and Hammersmith Bridge. But TfL has also been accused by some corners of neglecting maintenance on these structures in the years preceding the pandemic. Last July, the London Assembly called for a full investigation into the ownership of London’s tunnels and bridges. As previously revealed by NCE, more money was spent developing plans for the failed Garden Bridge project than TfL has spent on maintaining 25 River Thames crossings during the last 10 years. In total, TfL has spent just under £43M on maintaining Thames crossings since 2010 – some £10M less than the £53M spent developing plans for the Garden Bridge under Boris Johnson’s mayorship. (The total maintenance spend only accounts for capital expenditure by TfL and does not include any additional maintenance funding from local councils.) During the same period, a further £13M was spent developing proposals for a bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf, before the plan was axed in 2019.