More than 1m vehicles cross new £600m bridge over the Mersey – as the first penalty notices are issued

Halton residents can cross the bridge for free for an annual £10 fee but the same deal cannot be offered to local firms as it would be illegal under EU rules covering state aid. Tony McDonough reports

The £600m New Mersey Gateway bridge is now open to traffic

 

More than 1m vehicles have used the new Mersey Gateway Bridge in the first 16 days since it opened to traffic with around 65,000 to 70,000 vehicles every weekday.

Merseyflow, which is in charge of the tolling on the £600m Runcorn-Widnes link, have also issued the first penalty charges in the last few days.

It had delayed issuing notices s they have been taking extra time to check initial payments as customers get used to the new tolling system.

Around 68% of the journeys made in the initial period were by vehicles already registered with Merseyflow.

When the new bridge project, which also includes road improvements in the wider area, opened to traffic in mid-October the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge was immediately closed for essential improvement work that will take about a year.

That bridge, which was previously free to cross, will also be tolled when it re-opens.

More than 1m vehicles crossed the new Mersey Gateway Bridge in the 16 days after it opened

 

Drivers have a choice of either registering with Merseyflow, paying for their one-off journey up to a year in advance or paying for it by 11.59pm the day after they cross.

Cost burden

Although local Halton residents can use the bridge freely for annual £10 charge that doesn’t apply to small businesses in the area and some are concerned it will prove to be a huge cost burden.

It was revealed earlier this year that EU rules on state aid for businesses would mean offering small firms the same deal as residents would have been illegal.

Halton Labour MP Derek Twigg has called the situation “scandalous”.

Business support

However, the bridge has proved popular with larger businesses including Liverpool John Lennon Airport and Widnes-based logistics giant, Stobart Group, which says its vehicles will make around 30,000 crossings a year.

Peter Cook, chair of Halton Chamber of Commerce, said: “Last Monday morning I travelled from Chester to Liverpool at 8:30am and returned to Runcorn two hours later with no hold ups.

“Crossing the bridge at 60mph was quite a new experience. The view from the bridge made me realise just how big the project has been and what an amazing achievement it has been to construct whilst the traffic was still around.

Any driver who receives a penalty notice is advised to deal with it as quickly as possible to take advantage of a 50% discount – reducing the charge to £20 plus the original toll fee  if you pay within 14 days.

The notice also contains details of how you can challenge the payment if you feel it has been sent in error.

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