Driving heaven is just 50 days away on A3
MOTORISTS in East Hampshire are just 50 days from heaven – the day the A3 tunnel finally opens to traffic and the horror of Hindhead traffic jams is consigned to the history books.
On Saturday, almost 7,000 members of the public were allowed their first glimpse of the new tunnel on the A3 at Hindhead, which will cut journey times through the infamous bottleneck by around 20 minutes.
The Post can reveal that the southbound section of the £371m project is due to open to traffic on July 6, with the northbound carriageway due to open a few days later once work to link the new carriageway up to the existing road has been completed.
The sense of history surrounding this special occasion was not lost on the people lucky enough to be given the chance to complete the 1.2 mile stroll through the northbound tunnel portal.
There were smiles all round as visitors to the tunnel liked what they saw. The older generations told stories of being caught up in traffic jams as far back as the 1950s, while youngsters marvelled at what is now the country’s longest road tunnel.
East Hampshire MP Damian Hinds was part of a group of VIPs which started off the day of tunnel walks. He emerged on the northern side of the tunnel with Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey, and Baroness Virginia Bottomley. Mr Hinds said: “This is a really important day for the area as it shows that we are a step closer to the opening of the Hindhead Tunnel to traffic.
“I had a very excited feeling as I was walking through the tunnel and I hope a lot of people enjoyed being able to come and take a look at this project. It is a long time coming but it is an amazing engineering feat. This improvement to the transport and infrastructure links with East Hampshire will be important to the district’s businesses.”
Peter Hatch, a Grayshott resident who runs the village’s website grayshott.com, said: “This is the culmination of many years of planning and this event gives people an opportunity to walk through the tunnel and see what we are going to get.
“We are yet to see what impact the opening of the tunnel will have on traffic flows in the area but it should make getting around local roads a lot easier.”
Paul Neal, major highways director for Balfour Beatty, the company responsible for the construction of the tunnel and new roads, said: “This is a great job. It looks fantastic now we have more or less finished the work.”
A spokesman for the Highways Agency added: “The Hindhead Tunnel is a vital road improvement, with real benefits for road users and local people alike, and unrivalled environmental benefits too. We are looking forward to opening the new road this summer.” Demand for tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime experience far outstripped supply and thousands more people wanted to see the new tunnel up close.
However, the organisers of the ticket sales for the event, Hindhead Together, are pleased with the way tickets were distributed. Their final figures show that 70 per cent of tickets went to residents living in Haslemere, Hindhead, Thursley, Liphook and Grayshott.
Shane Hopper, of Elstead, worked on the construction of the tunnel and he attended the walk through with members of his family.
He said: “It really does feel great to see the tunnel now completed. We have family who live in Liphook so the tunnel is going to be good for us as it will cut journey times through Hindhead by 20 minutes – it is going to have a good impact on our lives.”
Julia Parker, from Newdigate, said: “This is the typical eccentric British event – where else in the world would people come out and celebrate the building of a tunnel. It was such a long time in the making, it is going to be brilliant when it is actually open.”
Alison Bishop, of Grayswood, felt the construction firm deserved plenty of praise for the way they have handled the project and she was looking forward to the environmental impact this will have on the area too.
She added: “Balfour Beatty have done a wonderful job. This project has gone on for such a long time but they have kept the public informed on their progress and involved the community.
“Areas around Hindhead and the Devil’s Punchbowl are special environmental sites. They contain quite a few rare species and hopefully once the old road disappears the environment will improve and we can enjoy these sites even more.”
When the walkers arrived at the northern end of the tunnel, they were entertained by a number of local music groups, including The Choir Company groups from Petersfield and Alton.
Haslemere Town Band were also in attendance and 16-year-old member Eric Foster had composed a special piece of music for the occasion called The Devil’s Punchbowl March. His parents’ house in Hindhead sits directly above the path of the tunnel.
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Weather for Petersfield
Friday 13 December 2013
Temperature: 4 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: South west