Severn toll booth removal work warning for drivers

The two Severn Crossings from the air Image copyright MJRichardson/Geograph
Image caption Maintenance of the two Severn bridges costs on average £6m a year

Drivers using both Severn bridges have been warned to expect road works and speed restrictions in early December as the crossings prepare to go toll free.

Charges on the bridges, currently £5.60 for a car travelling westbound, will be axed on 17 December which could save regular users as much as £1,500 a year.

The plan is to have three lanes of toll free traffic with a temporary 50mph speed limit as toll booths are removed.

The work on both the M4 and M48 bridges will be finished in spring 2019.

About 25 million journeys a year are made across the two bridges and the Welsh Government estimates the abolition of the tolls will give a £100m boost to the Welsh economy.

The toll on the bridges - that link south Wales and south west England - was initially reduced on New Year's Day in 2018 after they returned to public ownership as the UK government removed VAT on their take-over.

Highways England, which runs the bridges, will start temporary works around the M4 toll plaza in Monmouthshire from 09:00 GMT on Friday, 14 December for three days to remove the booths.

The charges will be scrapped on the following Monday - and on that Monday, the M48 bridge will be closed westbound for two days for those booths to be taken down.

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Media captionBBC archive: The day the Severn bridge opened
Image copyright Martin Richard Phelan/Geograph
Image caption The £830m Second Severn Crossing was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1996

Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones called for the toll, which is worth up to £10m a month for the government, to be scrapped straight away on 1 January 2018.

But the Department for Transport said the fees collected in 2018 would help pay to phase out tolling and pay towards the estimated annual maintenance and operational cost bill of £15m.

When the work is finished in 2019, both areas will be a "standard motorway layout" - three lanes on the M4 and two on the M48.

The Welsh Government said the toll removal "will help provide greater opportunities for those looking to visit and trade in and with Wales".

"It is expected that it will also help boost employment locally providing a more cost effective connectivity to the M4 corridor in south Wales and England," added a spokesperson.

The Queen opened the £8m first bridge in 1966 while the second bridge, built three miles downstream across the Severn Estuary, was financed by a private consortium set up in 1992.

Image caption The tolls were reduced in January after the Severn crossings returned to public ownership
Image copyright Jaggery/Geograph
Image caption Traffic will be able to free flow through the current toll plaza area when the booths are removed

The newest bridge, opened in 1996, cost £332m to construct but the eventual repayments including debt repayments, interest and tax totalled more than £1.3bn.

Severn River Crossing's 180 staff were transferred to UK government agency Highways England on 1 January 2018 but with tolls set to be scrapped, 99 toll collector and administration jobs are going.

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