Hindhead tunnel walk attracts thousands

media captionThe BBC's Robert Hall spoke to some of the residents walking through the tunnel for the first time

Thousands of people have taken the chance to walk through a road tunnel under a Surrey beauty spot before 30,000 vehicles a day start using it.

Nearly 7,000 residents got tickets to walk through Hindhead tunnel, which will take the A3 London to Portsmouth road under the Devil's Punch Bowl.

One of the first through it was Baroness Bottomley, former Conservative MP for South West Surrey.

The baroness was among those who called for A3 improvements some 30 years ago.

The £370m tunnel, which will open to traffic in July, is designed to relieve the Hindhead traffic bottleneck.

So many residents wanted to walk through the tunnel that 10,000 applications were unsuccessful, provoking one councillor to suggest people had a better chance of winning the lottery than being selected.

Highways Agency spokesman James Wright said construction work on the 1.2 mile (1.9km) tunnel was virtually complete.

'Very big project'

Final testing and commissioning of the tunnel will take place before the official opening.

"The tunnel will transform life for everyone living in and around Hindhead," said Mr Wright.

"It is a very big project - the longest underland road tunnel in the UK and we are very much looking forward to that great opening in July."

He said the response of residents to the walk-through day was testament to the support the project had received locally.

Work on the twin-bore tunnel began in 2007, with viewing platforms built to allow spectators to monitor progress.

The Devil's Punchbowl, a large hollow of dry sandy heath to the east of Hindhead, is a site of special scientific interest and part of an international special protection area designated under the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds.

The existing A3 between the National Trust cafe and Boundless Road will be closed to through traffic after the tunnel is opened and acres of land returned to heathland.

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