Toll Bridges and Bridge Tolls

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The cheapest roads are those built on firm level ground. When hills and valleys are encountered, some saving can be made by arranging that the excavated spoil from cuttings has about the right volume to build the embankments. The undulations of the road may follow that of the land, but with reduced amplitude, so that gradients are never too high, though in exceptional circumstances the gradient may have to be steep for economic reasons.  Extra lanes for slow trucks may be provided.

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When the variations in the landscape become too great, bridges and tunnels may be required. Crossing rivers, canals, roads, paths and railways always requires a bridge.

In the United Kingdom, roads are generally financed by the state, though the M6 relief road near Birmingham is a private toll road, intended to reduce congestion on the M6 motorway. A small number of streets in towns are owned by the householders, and are labelled "private road": some of these roads are maintained to a lower standard than the public ones, though as speeds are low, this is of no great importance. There is no toll for using them.

Tolls in the UK are generally encountered only for very large bridges, such as the M4 Severn bridge, the Forth road bridge, and some tunnels, such as the Dartford tunnel on the M25 motorway round London. They are not popular.

A fine old toll bridge is the Clifton suspension bridge.

Severn2X.jpg (63967 bytes)SSC3B.jpg (35464 bytes) The river Severn toll crossings are unusual in that a toll is paid when travelling from England towards Wales, but not in the other direction. These tolls are paid on two bridges, the suspension bridge on the M48, and the cable-stayed bridge on the M4, sometimes known as the Second Severn Crossing or SSC, in spite of being more like the 100th crossing, not counting the many old bridges that no longer exist. The result of this is that many drivers going to Wales prefer to cross the Severn at Gloucester, and then drive down the rather small A48 road to Chepstow, rather than pay the toll. On the return journey they use one of the new bridges, free of charge.

Another contentious toll is that levied for crossing the new bridge which connects the Isle of Skye to the mainland. Some people would have preferred the ferry to be retained. Some want a lower toll or no toll at all. The position is quite complex.  Were the toll to be removed completely, it is possible that tourist traffic might be drawn away from other islands which are reached only by ferry. Some people object to the type of bridge, or even to having a bridge at all.

In England there are a few anomalous old and small bridges which require a toll to cross. The builders were granted the right to levy a toll by Act of Parliament; as a result, the right can only be rescinded by other Acts of Parliament, which would be expensive. One example is the toll bridge at Eynsham, near Oxford. The A40, north east of Oxford is exceedingly busy during the morning peak time, and those who turn off it to go through Eynsham only replace one misery by another - to pay 5p at Eynsham, you might, on a bad day, queue for up to half an hour. To go to west Oxford from the north west, Eynsham is probably the only feasible route.

WhitneyTollA.jpg (395103 bytes)Another toll bridge is found at Whitney-on-Wye, near Hay-on-Wye. The Act of Parliament was passed in 1774, and a new bridge was built. It was washed away by the river Wye. So were two more. All these had five stone arches. A new Act of 1796 allowed for a bridge with three wooden spans and two stone arches, one at each end. These wooden spans were built of greenheart, a wood from Guinea which is exceedingly durable. The ownership of the new bridge remained in the same family until 1981. The bridge is a Grade II listed building, which has implications in terms of preservation.

Other small toll bridge are found at Batheaston, Ouseburn and Whitchurch-on-Thames. 

Ownership of small toll bridges can be eagerly sought, because of the steady income and the meagre outgoings, until the bridge needs repairing. Staff can be unskilled and so not expensive.

Queuing to pay a toll is only one of numerous reasons why journey times can be so long in peak periods. Road junctions, narrow sections on roads, steep hills, traffic signals, swing bridges, and general traffic density are other factors. People may spend up to three hours travelling in each direction between home and work. One solution to this is to take a different job, but there are several possible reasons why this may not be desirable, or even possible. The time spent in traffic queues and in driving in general represents an economic loss if the time could have been spent in working, or a loss of leisure time if it could have been spent on pastimes. The stress of driving in high density traffic, especially with queuing, can be very great in those people who are quick to anger, and may be significant even in those of more placid disposition. This is a problem that afflicts many of the more prosperous countries, and one to which there is no easy solution.

Here is a link which provides an extensive list of tolls.


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