£371m tunnel scoops best in the world title

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WHEN drivers heading for London later this year go underground, they will be thrilled to know they are zipping through a world-beating tunnel.

For the 371m Hindhead tunnel has been recognised as the best of its type on the planet.

The one-and-a-quarter-mile-long stretch of the A3 is expected to open this summer and will be the longest road tunnel under land in the UK.

And in a beauty contest of global tunnels it scooped Best In Class at the International Tunnelling Awards in London.

The win capped a good year for engineers working on the major road scheme, part of the four-mile bypass being built on the Hampshire/Surrey border.

Not only is the road due to open on time, but the massive project is also on budget.

It is hoped that the new scheme will help to wipe out the notorious bottleneck at the Hindhead traffic lights which at peak times can add up to 40 minutes to a trip from Portsmouth to the M25 and beyond.

It will also lift the daily blight of heavy traffic in Hindhead village and remove the A3 from winding around the famous Devil's Punchbowl beauty spot and reunite hundreds of acres of heathland in the Surrey Hills.

Judges said new construction techniques used to build the two, two-lane tubes through the hills were 'a tremendous step forward for UK tunnelling'.

They were very impressed by the way the tunnel has been made watertight by spraying a waterproof membrane on to the roof.

They also applauded the 12m saved by using new building techniques and the way diversions on the existing A3 have been used during the four-year building project.

The contract for the Highways Agency scheme was awarded to Balfour Beatty in 2002, with a design by Mott MacDonald.

Highways Agency project manager Paul Arnold said: 'I'm delighted the judging panel recognised the hard work and world-class innovation that brought this major scheme to life.

'Four years in, main construction on both the tunnel and the new stretch of the A3 has been successfully completed on time and on budget.'