How do you feel about toll roads?

England looks set to get its second toll road – the government has announced plans to build a new stretch of the AI4 in Cambridgeshire by 2020. The first toll route – the 27-mile M6 toll motorway to the north of Birmingham – was opened in 2003. The A14 plan has stirred controversy because the existing route will be ‘de-trunked’. A key bridge in Huntingdon is to be demolished, effectively giving drivers no option but to use the new pay road – unless they take a lengthy detour using the A1. The toll charges for the new section of the A14 are predicted to be £1.50 for cars and £3.00 for lorries. The present A14 carries huge volumes of freight to and from the Suffolk port of Felixstowe. It hasn’t yet been decided whether the toll will vary according to the time of day or at the weekend. The M6 toll charges vary from £3.00 for a motorbike and £5.50 for a car to £11.00 for a coach or HGV. Rates fall between 11pm and 6am and on Saturday and Sunday. Regular users can secure a 5% discount, and those only using the central portion of the route also pay less. Those exempt from pay¬ing road duty on the grounds of disability are exempt from the toll.

Bridge of sighs

While toll roads are a rarity in the UK (they are commonplace on the Continent), we are used to paying a toll on bridges such as the Dartford Crossing, the Severn crossings between England and Wales and the Humber bridge between Hull and Barton. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lingering resentment – tolls are introduced on the basis that they raise money to clear the construction costs and fund the maintenance of the structure, but they tend to be retained at the initial level, even when capital debts are cleared. In Scotland, getting rid of bridge tolls became a major political issue in the early 2000s. In 2007, the Scottish Nationalist Party made a manifesto commitment to remove the last remaining tolls – on the Forth and Tay road bridges – and the entire Scottish road and bridge network became toll-free in 2008.

Tunnel of love?

There are two toll roads connecting Liverpool and Wirral, the Queesnway Tunnel which opened in 1934, and the Kingsway Tunnel which opened in 1971, and both are the cause of constant consternation among local motorists. This is primarily because both are subject to regular price increases and the extra money generated does not go on paying for the cost of their construction or maintenance, as planned when they were built. Although motorbikes can go through the tunnels free of charge, car drivers are currently charged £1.60 each way and the annual surplus of £5.6million is used to subsidise other transport in the city including bus, ferry and train services.

Taking a toll

Many environmentalists support toll roads as a way to reduce traffic volumes and thus limit carbon emissions. Road hauliers, meanwhile, claim they simply fuel inflation because costs are passed on to consumers. But what’s your view? Are you happy to pay a toll to get access to a faster route, or do you object to people enjoying a better driving experience simply on the basis that they can afford to pay for it? Do you believe tolls have a role to play in improving the environment? Or are they a cynical money-making ploy? We’d love to know what you think. Let us know in the box below.

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