Thousands of people had a unique opportunity to walk the new Hindhead Tunnel prior to it opening.
After more than 10 years of planning and construction the new A3 bypass is set to open at the beginning of July, which motorists and locals hope will finally put an end to the queues of traffic which have blighted the area for so long.
But even with most people fully behind the project, organisers were still astonished by the number who wanted to attend Saturday’s walk through.
More than 6,500 members of the public completed the 1.2-mile trip from one end of the tunnel to the other, with many relishing the chance to see such an impressive feat of engineering up close before cars hit the Tarmac.
Starting at 9am a steady stream of people arrived on coaches at the tunnel entrance to take their first proper look at the £371m project.
Navigating its way beneath famous beauty spot The Devil’s Punch Bowl, the tunnel curves and descends as visitors enter it from the south.
Along the way are plaques to mark the spot where its two sides met during construction, as well as the point where, at 65m, the tunnel is deepest under the ground.
And since it isn’t often you can walk along the middle of a dual carriageway without worrying about cars, some people took the opportunity to examine the road’s newly painted white lines, and a few even decided to lie on the ground.
Bringing his two young children with him, Roger Pilsbury, 35, from Purbrook, Waterlooville, said he had to savour this once-in-a-lifetime chance.
He said: ‘It was amazing. It’s great to be that far under the ground and feel completely safe.’
Mike Deadman arranged a coach for 79 members of East Hampshire Walking For Health, the largest single group to walk the tunnel.
He said: ‘We were very impressed by the sheer scale of it, when you get up close.
‘And of course many of us have been tormented by the traffic through Hindhead, so it was great to see for that reason as well.’
In addition to making life easier for local people and drivers, the new road is also set to bring huge economic benefits to the Portsmouth area.
This was spelled out by one of the very first people to pass through the tunnel; the government’s Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
‘The truth is that while Hindhead is a lovely place, for years it has been rightly regarded by people in the south as a horrendous bottleneck,’ he said.
‘Now hopefully this tunnel will get rid of that problem, and help to bring new business opportunities and jobs to Portsmouth. With easier transport through this area more and more people are going to want to invest in the city.’