Wales

Severn bridges: Work begins to remove M4 toll booths

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Media captionDemolition teams dismantle the bridge's toll booth

The M4 into south Wales is facing nightly closures as work to dismantle the toll booths on the Prince of Wales bridge takes place to prepare for the Severn toll removal.

The bridge was scheduled to be closed westbound overnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The toll has been in place since the first crossing opened in 1966, but will be removed on Monday.

Collector Deborah Hitchins said: "I'll miss welcoming the world to Wales."

She is being made redundant - one of 100 toll collectors affected - as the charge, currently £5.60 for cars, is being scrapped after the bridges returned to public ownership last year.

"Work isn't just a job... I love to welcome people into my beautiful homeland of Wales and I always reassure them that £5.60 is truly a bargain," Ms Hitchins blogged.

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Media caption'I've been asked for a Big Mac and fries'

"The bridge tolls have become a tradition over the past 50 years and paying the toll always feels a little begrudgingly symbolic and gives many a feeling of coming home."

The patriotism that many feel when they see the bridge has become the basis for jokes.

Ms Hitchins: said: "If you're crossing the bridges, by all means, be happy that you won't have to pay for much longer. But also remember that there won't be anyone to welcome you to Wales anymore.

"The tolling staff are a close-knit bunch of people. I will miss pulling on my hi-viz to play Frogger to cross the lanes to get into my allocated booth."

Fellow collector Darren Moore has had drivers jokingly asked him for fast food during his 12 years collecting tolls and has also been flashed by kilt-wearing Scottish rugby fans heading to Wales.

"I'm sad I'm losing my job but I understand that the £5.60 toll has been expensive for commuters," said Mr Moore.

Image copyright MJRichardson/Geograph
Image caption Maintenance of the two Severn bridges costs on average £6m a year
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Media captionBBC archive: the day the Severn Bridge opened 50 years ago

"I live in Chepstow and my wife works in Bristol so we pay the tolls ourselves as she crosses the bridge every day."

The closure of the Prince of Wales Bridge westbound between Monmouthshire and South Gloucestershire was scheduled for 20:00 GMT on Friday and Saturday until 06:00 the following day.

Image copyright Highways England

Motorists will be diverted around the original M48 Severn Bridge.

The M4 bridge will then close at 19:00 on Sunday and reopen toll free before Monday's rush hour - at a time yet to be confirmed - but with a 50mph speed restriction on temporary narrow lanes.

Image copyright Jaggery/Geograph
Image caption Traffic will be able to free flow through the current toll plaza area when the booths are removed

Shortly after the M4 bridge reopens on Monday, the M48 original Severn crossing will shut westbound until Wednesday for the tolls to be dismantled.

Further work will be carried out in 2019 to return both routes to a three-lane motorway with the usual 70mph speed limit.

About 25 million journeys a year are made across the two bridges and it is estimated the abolition of the tolls will give a £100m boost to the Welsh economy and a £1,400 annual boost to commuters.

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