Thousands of residents of neighbouring areas will have to pay to use the new Mersey Gateway Bridge, the Government has said.
In a written parliamentary answer, transport minister Andrew Jones said the Department for Transport had evaluated options for extending toll discounts beyond host borough Halton to residents of Cheshire West and Chester, and Warrington, but had decided not to do so.
Transport minister Andrew Jones
Mr Jones said detailed work had considered ‘what the costs would be and what this would do to the contracts already signed by Halton Borough Council to deliver the scheme and the tolling infrastructure’.
He added that feasibility work had also ‘considered the legal position‘.
This ‘showed there would be a significant risk of a successful legal challenge to a decision to extend free tolling to some local Councils and not others’.
On the cost side, Mr Jones said extending free tolling to only a handful of local Councils ‘would still be at a substantial cost to the taxpayer’.
User discounts for all five authorities that neighbour Halton would cost an estimated of £604m to the public purse. If, as is the case with Halton, the cost was to be split between the Government and local authorities, £377m would fall to the five councils.
Mr Jones said it is Government policy that users of estuarial crossings should help pay for the benefits they receive but that an exception will be made for residents of Halton, ‘given that the existing Silver Jubilee Crossing is the only road link between the two halves of the Borough’.
He said other users ‘will have a range of frequent user discounts available to them to use a crossing that will deliver considerable congestion and journey time improvements to boost the region’s economy’.
Mr Jones confirmed that the bridge is on target to open in autumn 2017.