How the original Tyne Tunnels came into existence
In order to meet the growing, and widely recognised, need for a river crossing east of Newcastle, designs for bridges that would link North and South Shields had been considered since the 1800s.
However challenges presented by the busy shipping route meant that no bridge proposals were successful. A later proposal was developed during the 1920s for a tunnel between North and South Shields. This original proposal was to carry high-speed electric monorail cars. However this was eventually rejected due to local objections.
By 1937 the County Councils of Durham and Northumberland had developed a scheme to build three tunnels under the Tyne: a pedestrian tunnel; a cyclist tunnel; and a vehicle tunnel.
The onset of the Second World War then delayed the development of the Tyne Tunnels and plans were put on hold until 1946, when an act of Parliament called the ‘Tyne Tunnel Act’ was passed. This empowered the joint committee of the County Councils to go ahead and build the tunnels.
Unfortunately lack of available funds meant that it was not possible to build all tunnels at once. Plans for the more expensive road tunnel were therefore put on hold, and the focus shifted onto the Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels, which opened in 1951.
The detailed plans for the vehicle tunnel had been prepared and carried forward, but successive Government Transport Ministers declined to authorise the road tunnel’s construction. By 1956 these delays had the effect of requiring a further piece of legislation to be passed by Parliament in order to extend the permitted timeline for the road tunnel’s construction works, which had been stipulated under the original 1946 Act. The delays had also caused the estimated costs to rise to more than £12,000,000 by 1957.
The joint committee of the County Councils continued to press the Government to allow the project to be undertaken. In February of 1957 the Government Transport Secretary of the day announced that any new project of this type must partly pay for itself and that if it were to proceed the road tunnel must therefore be tolled. By the autumn of 1961 the plans, approvals and consents were all in place and construction of the Tyne Vehicle Tunnel commenced.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opened the new vehicle tunnel in October 1967.