Traffic carrying goods and food across the Dartford Crossing has now reached record levels, with new data showing that over 180,000 vehicles make the trip on its busiest days, far beyond its total design capcity

The new figures show that despite the unprecedented restrictions over the last year in England, the strategic Thames crossing regularly carries more congestion than it was designed for, with traffic carrying food and goods higher than ever before.

Highways England says the figures published this week stresses the crucial role of the crossing, and makes the case for a proposed new Lower Thames Crossing "stronger than ever."

The data shows traffic levels during the first national lockdown brought in to force in March 2020 had dropped by up to 62.5% to 68,288 in April last year compared to the 182,658 on the equivalent day 12 months earlier.

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Built almost 60 years ago, the Dartford Crossing has a total design capacity of 135,000 vehicles a day, but it is currently way above this and carries more than 180,000 on its busiest days.

The new traffic data highlights that whilst the measures put in place to manage the Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on traffic levels throughout the UK, traffic has quickly returned to levels last seen before the pandemic.

The crossing saw its busiest day ever for HGV traffic in December 2020, which is now consistently above 2019 levels.

The Dartford Crossing traffic volume data also reported that the crossing’s busiest day ever recorded was on Tuesday 20 February 2018 with a massive 206,713 vehicles.

Goods vehicles travelling through the crossing continued to play a vital role moving essential goods to supermarkets and homes, with 42% of the vehicles using the crossing now goods vehicles.

Matt Palmer, Executive Director for the Lower Thames Crossing said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a momentous impact on every part of our daily lives including when and how we travel.

"Throughout the pandemic the Dartford Crossing played and continues to play a crucial role in almost everything we do from delivering essential goods to our shelves and our doorsteps, to visiting friends and family or getting to work.

"These figures show the case for the Lower Thames Crossing is stronger than ever, the changes as result of the pandemic although having dramatic impact on traffic more widely, have not impacted the strategic traffic crossing Dartford, this only reinforces how crucial crossing the Thames is to our way of life."

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"But despite improvements and 24-hour monitoring, the Dartford crossing is still over design capacity and that inevitably causes congestion and delays. The Lower Thames Crossing would almost double road capacity crossing the Thames east of London, providing a reliable connection that will add billions to the economy.

"But it also has a more immediate role in the economic recovery from Covid-19 by creating tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of opportunities for local people and businesses in its construction.”

This update comes as a new survey revealed that almost nine out of ten Dart Charge business account holders support the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, which would relieve congestion and improve air quality by diverting over 13 million vehicles away from Dartford every year.

Dave Lilly, proprietor of Lilly Transport, said: "We lose up to 20 hours a week on each vehicle due to congestion. The Lower Thames Crossing will provide major relief by removing a large amount of traffic travelling east from the present crossings."

Highways England is in the middle of its Community Impacts Consultation for the Lower Thames Crossing, which runs from 14 July until 8 September, before submitting a Development Consent Order application later this year.

If given the green light, construction is expected to start in 2024 and take around six years, with a target opening date between 2029 and 2030.

Full details of the consultation are available on the consultation web site.