The project to construct the tunnel under the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Surrey was completed on time and on budget by Main Contractors Balfour Beatty for the Highways Agency.
The 1.8 km underground tunnel diverts four miles of the existing A3 road and passes underneath the Devil’s Punchbowl, meeting up with it again at the Haslemere junction.
Commuters driving through Hindhead now benefit from the fact that the tunnel – which has won an award for being ‘the best of its type in the world’ at the New Civil Engineer International Tunneling Awards in 2010 – features cross-passages at every 100m and state of the art safety and communications systems, including CCTV surveillance and radio-interrupt systems to convey information to drivers.
The scheme started in January 2007 when crews began clearing the ground, reducing the A3 carriageway through Hindhead down to one lane either way for the duration of the works. But its opening brings to an end a 30-year campaign for improvements to the bottleneck at the Hindhead traffic lights, which was supported by former MP Baroness Virginia Bottomley and South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt, among others.
Following the official opening by transport secretary Philip Hammond, which for health and safety reasons was not open to the public, the first traffic was escorted through the southbound tunnel by a police escort. The second northbound tunnel opened to traffic a few days later.
Speaking at the event, Mr Hammond said: “This is another one of the ‘missing links’ in Britain’s trunk road network now put in place.
“For years traffic has been held up at the Hindhead crossroads, hampering the flow of goods and services along this vital artery and blighting the lives of people living in and around Hindhead.
“No longer. This new road will transform journeys on the A3, improving journey times by around 20 minutes or more at busy periods, and will deliver a threefold return on investment for the economy.”
Mr Hammond was joined for the opening ceremony by culture secretary and South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt, who was one of the first people to walk through the tunnel in May. He addressed the gathered guests first, paying tribute to the work of his predecessor, Baroness Virginia Bottomley, and her husband Peter Bottomley, a former transport minister, who together campaigned for better roads around Hindhead for over 20 years.
He praised the “tenacity” of the neighbouring communities, attributing the project’s success to their “patience, tolerance and understanding” during the long period of building work.
Andrew McNaughton, chief operating officer at Balfour Beatty, who won the tender for the project in 2000, thanked his team and that of the Highways Agency.
It is hoped that the tunnel will cut the number of rush-hour traffic jams, and restore tranquility to the area, the Devil’s Punchbowl, recognised as being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a conservation area for wild birds. Previously, traffic would be backed-up for several miles, polluting the surrounding environment with both noise and exhaust fumes.
Work is now underway to return the old A3 to nature, reuniting the Devil’s Punchbowl with Hindhead Common for the first time in almost 200 years.