It’s only a mile-and-a-quarter long. At 70mph you’ll be through it in a flash, but for tens of thousands of frustrated drivers today marked the light at the end of a very long tunnel.
For decades the traffic lights in the middle of Hindhead village on the A3 have hung over motorists like a black cloud of toxic exhaust.
It’s been an anger-inducing but necessary blackspot to grind through on the last remaining stretch of single carriageway A-road between south-east Hampshire and Scotland.
But today that dark cloud was partially lifted. By Friday it will have evaporated completely.
When transport secretary Philip Hammond snipped a symbolic ribbon this morning the southbound carriageway of the Hindhead tunnel opened to a fanfare of revving engines and honked horns.
Minutes later, and corralled by a police rolling road-block, the first vehicles to use the £371m tunnel and four-mile stretch of new road bypassing Hindhead emerged from the tunnel.
On Friday morning the northbound tunnel will open bringing undiluted joy to those of us who regularly try to reach the M25, London, Pompey away games or Aunt Agatha in Guildford.
Earlier this week I sampled the tunnel drive. This meant joining the morning rush hour queue at Liphook and a 40-minute reminder of what the past nine years has been all about. And once past those Hindhead lights there was, of course, the snaking run around the lip of the Devil’s Punchbowl, the National Trust-owned beauty spot.
We were limited to just 15mph although from today you’ll be able to do 70 through the twin bores.
OK, it’s just a tunnel. At the moment is looks shiny and smells new. It’s not that long, not like of those I’ve driven through in Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
But unlike those holes bored through the Alps you can’t help but be impressed by the safety features – the white radars which look like large food processors covering every inch picking up a slow or stationary vehicle, a pedestrian or animal. There are 102 CCTV cameras. They have no blind spots.
There are 16 cross passages, one every 100 yards, so if there’s an accident or fire in one tunnel, people can be evacuated safely into the other.
For Paul Hoyland today was a day to celebrate. As a tunnel specialist he knew it could and would be done. ‘This was one of those rare road projects where the majority of interested parties were in favour,’ he said. ‘There were some geological and environmental challenges. The soft sandstone was a bit of a problem because it could be a bit unstable and we had two of the worst winters of recent decades with heavy snowfalls to content with.’
Mr Hoyland added: ‘The biggest challenges were the environmental ones because we were driving a road and two tunnels through an area of outstanding natural beauty.
‘But it’s all turned out really well. I’m very satisfied with what we’ve achieved – a month ahead of schedule and within budget.’