Preparatory work has started on a major refurbishment project which will see Birmingham’s city centre tunnels close for six weeks.
A 1.1km stretch of the A38 St Chad’s and Queensway tunnels through the city will be completely closed to all traffic from July 19 to September 2 while the upgrade is carried out.
The six-week closure is scheduled to take place during the school summer holidays when traffic flows are typically 15 to 20 per cent lighter. Around 18 million vehicles travel through the tunnels each year.
Preparatory work is now starting on site with highways workers carrying out jobs such as checking emergency phones, cleaning drainage and works to improve lighting. And last night the Express & Star was given a chance to take a look at how the tunnels look now before the major work begins.
Eddie Fellows, highway network manager at Amey which is carrying out the work, said the improvements formed part of a £330 million investment in the Birmingham road network.
“We started in June 2010 and the tunnels is part of that,” he said.
“We are also replacing 50 per cent of the street lights in Birmingham and we are resurfacing the roads that are in poor condition.”
Other work as part of the scheme includes removal of dangerous and dying trees and replacing them.
Mr Fellows said as part of the tunnel work, the two sides of the tunnel would be completely separate, with the gaps that exist now completely filled in. There will also be structural modification, fire protection and an improved general appearance which will include the tunnels being painted a magnolia colour inside.
John Sunderland, business director at Amey, said: “The work we are carrying out is essential, and we are aware that closing the tunnels will have a major impact on the city.
“However, by talking to people now, and ensuring those people who usually drive into the city centre have plenty of notice, we hope that people will give their travel plans some consideration.
“Our traffic planning team are hard at work ensuring that all diversion routes are suitably signed and easy to follow, so people can still get into Birmingham whether it is for work or leisure.”
Councillor Tahir Ali, cabinet member for development, jobs and skills at Birmingham City Council added: “I would urge everyone who regularly drives into the city centre, particularly at peak times, to consider alternatives. “Although the work has been planned for the school holidays when there are fewer vehicles on the roads, it will still have an unavoidable impact.
Drivers should consider using public transport, cycling or even walking where it is feasible.
“We are continuing to engage with the public and businesses to explain what we are doing and why this important work is needed. I would ask motorists to start thinking now about alternative ways of getting into the city centre.”
The six-week closure will be preceded by four weeks of overnight closures from 10pm to 6am and will be followed up by two weeks of similar closures.
The work is needed to strengthen the tunnels, which are more than 40 years old.
But the project will cause major disruption throughout the city centre, and bosses are urging people to use other modes of transport, such as trains, trams, buses and bikes. While the work is taking place Holloway underpass and the A34 Lancaster tunnel will still be open.
Highways maintenance service Amey and Birmingham City Council have launched a website – www.brumtunnels.co.uk – which will be updated regularly with a blog from the team behind the construction work, and with the latest news from public transport providers.
Drivers entering the city via the M6 junction six and the A38 Aston Expressway are recommended to use an alternative motorway junction and then the A4540 ring road.