Rush-hour drivers will rejoice at new route

BLAISE TAPP: 'Tis the season to be more giving to the lonely

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After a major construction project that has taken four-and-a-half long years and cost £371m, finally the Hindhead Tunnel was due to open to traffic today.

Three decades since a campaign first began for improvements to a traffic bottleneck on the A3, an impressive feat of engineering has provided an alternative. And it’s all been done a month ahead of schedule and within budget.

For all those rush-hour drivers who have had to endure the Hindhead lights on their way to and from London, it’s a moment to rejoice.

No longer will they be brought to a grinding halt and forced to sit in long queues. Now they can look forward to their daily life behind the wheel being changed very much for the better by a mile-and-a-quarter long tunnel under the Devil’s Punchbowl and a four-mile stretch of bypass that will speed them on their way.

Today it was only southbound traffic that got to try out the tunnel. Those using the northbound opening will be allowed to do so on Friday, using the old road until then – but it will be well worth the wait.

Experts predict the tunnel will be used by 30,000 vehicles a day, all freed from crawling along in frustrating jams and able to do 70mph.

Amidst the celebrations, some might feel apprehensive about using the tunnel. But safety has been of paramount importance during its design.

There are radars covering every inch of the twin-bore tunnel, picking up slow or stationary vehicles, pedestrians or animals. There are 102 CCTV cameras with no blind spots and 16 cross passages, one every 100 yards, allowing people to be safely evacuated in the event of an accident or fire.

Meanwhile, in a recent exercise police, fire and ambulance crews dealt with a staged scenario involving casualties from separate vehicle crashes and a serious fire underground.

Those who have built the tunnel should certainly be proud of their achievement, which has included overcoming some geological and environmental challenges. Thousands of motorists now have cause to thank them.