South East Wales

M4 Brynglas tunnel fire: Business worries over traffic

Drivers on the M4 in south Wales have been warned of more disruption after a lorry fire in the Brynglas tunnels at Newport brought traffic chaos.

The South Wales Chamber of Commerce said the disruption could have a significant impact on businesses.

However, drivers on Wednesday reported fewer difficulties than had been feared, the day after the blaze.

The westbound carriageway remains shut, although a contraflow system is in place on the eastbound carriageway.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Traffic was flowing slowly through the contraflow system in the tunnel on Wednesday

Fire crews spent most of Tuesday dealing with the fire. However, some drivers tweeted on Wednesday morning that they had an easier journey than expected.

One wrote on Twitter: "M4 amazingly easy to get through. 25 mins Cardiff to Cwmbran!" Another wrote: "Through m4 tunnel contraflow, not too bad considering."

Traffic cameras via the BBC Wales website are showing the latest scenes from the eastbound carriageway of the the M4 inside the Brynglas tunnel.

Engineers have been carrying out a structural assessment, but concerns have been voiced about the impact of the continued closure on holidaymakers and commerce.

David Rosser, director of CBI Wales, said he was very concerned: "Clearly the length of time for which the tunnel is closed will be a big factor here now".

He told BBC Radio Wales: "There will be people yesterday who missed flights, people who missed business meetings, deliveries on a just in time basis which weren't there just in time, and obviously people commuting to work who didn't get to work at any sensible time yesterday."

Mr Rosser said he was sure the Welsh Government understood the importance of the route and was doing everything it could to get the tunnel up and running as quickly as possible.

But, referring to plans shelved in 2009 to build a £1bn M4 relief road, he added: "The key issue for me, though, is that the Welsh Government's been warned about this problem for some years now.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption The westbound Brynglas tunnel is likely to remain closed for several days

"Seven or eight years ago the then Transport Minister Andrew Davies acknowledged the problem and said that we were going to build a new motorway to the south of Newport to increase not just the capacity but the resilience of that route, and it's the resilience that's been tested now."

Mr Rosser said the Brynglas tunnels and the bridges over the River Usk just to the east of the tunnels were the two critical pieces of infrastructure on the M4 in that area.

"If either of those goes down for a significant period you've lost the main artery into south Wales," he said.

"For the economy of Wales east-west links are paramount."

'Total chaos'

Mike Gough, partner with Llandrindod Wells-based haulage firm AE Gough and Sons, said the tunnel closure on Tuesday had already cost his firm money.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption The resilience of the route to south Wales is brought into question by the infrastructure, says CBI Wales

"Yesterday was total chaos," said Mr Gough, whose firm carries animal feed from the Bristol area to Carmarthen.

"We were unable to get through because of the tunnel.

"It comes back to the Newport relief road, really. It's such a bottleneck there around Newport where the motorway comes down to two lanes.

"Accidents do happen and nothing could be done about it, [but] it's a great shame when the country has to come to a grinding halt because there's only one road in and one road out.

"From Bristol back to Carmarthen there isn't a great deal of alternative. Hopefully now with the contraflow system through the east section of the tunnel, Traffic will at least keep moving if nothing else.

Mr Gough said the decision to close the A449 from Abergavenny to the Coldra roundabout at Newport on Tuesday - taken, the Welsh Government said, to stop further congestion on the M4 - also caused problems.

"We just felt that it was a little unnecessary, possibly, to shut the A449 as it was such a major route, rather than allowing traffic to go down to the Coldra and leave Wales over the Severn Bridge."

BBC Wales reporter Alun Thomas said the traffic situation at the tunnels during Wednesday morning's rush hour looked "surprisingly good."

"The traffic is moving. It's moving slowly, but it certainly is moving," he said.

"It looks like travellers have heeded advice given overnight by the Welsh Government to avoid this part of the M4 if at all possible."

There was still no official notice as to when the two tunnels will be open, he added.

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