The local authority has stated its “strong opposition” to increased prices for users of the Warburton Toll Bridge following the structure’s proposed £6.5m renovation.
A four-week consultation was opened yesterday by Manchester Ship Canal Company, part of Peel Ports, on its plans to undertake a £6.5m upgrade programme that will see the bridge itself, approach roads and toll-taking systems upgraded.
Measures include the automation of toll-taking to reduce queueing and direct measures to control the height, weight, size and speed of vehicles using the bridge.
The management of the bridge was passed by the government to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in the late 19th century and has effectively remained there since. The bridge crosses the waterway on the B5159, linking the A57 to the A6144.
In its sustainable investment plan document, Peel points out that the low current cost of using the bridge is something of an anomaly, saying “to our knowledge we are the only private toll operator in England that has never asked for a toll increase since its original founding legislation,” meaning the rate of 12p has been in place since the original 1863 Act. Vivid Economics worked on the plan with the group.
Excluding VAT, said Peel, the bridge at present brings in £250,000 a year. The company is thus seeking to increase the toll to £1 per crossing, with a 50p discount for residents of certain local postcodes – these addresses making up around 30% of crossings according to the firm’s modelling.
Motorists making multiple crossings in a day will pay a maximum of £2 due to capping. Peel Ports’ plan compares the proposals to other Mersey crossings: £1.80 for the tunnels and £2 for the Mersey Gateway.
Warrington Council is in the process of providing a formal response to state its firm opposition.
The council’s cabinet member for transportation, highways and public realm, Cllr Hans Mundry, said: “We acknowledge that a significant upgrade of Warburton & Rixton Toll Bridge, to bring it into the 21st century, has been needed for some time.
“Any proposals to invest in the future of the bridge are to be welcomed. However, it is completely unacceptable that motorists should have to bear the brunt of these costs. We are extremely concerned by these toll increase proposals, which could see bridge users paying up to eight times more per trip than the current charge.”
Both Warrington and fellow consultee Trafford Council have confirmed they cannot make a financial contribution to the bridge redevelopment.
Mundry continued: “Some years ago, the government committed to free tolls for local residents who regularly use the Mersey Gateway bridge – now we find that potentially local residents will have to also pay an astronomic toll to cross the Warburton bridge.
“This is a substantial increase, which would have a real financial impact on motorists, particularly those who need to use the bridge regularly to get to work or visit family. We absolutely cannot support this, and that’s why we are writing to Peel Ports to state our strong opposition, and to urge them to reconsider their proposals.”
Should the plan proceed as Peel Ports intends, work would start in 2023.
A spokesperson for Manchester Ship Canal Company said: “Warrington Borough Council and Trafford Borough Council have been fully involved over several years in helping us to develop our plan to future-proof the bridge.
“Judging by the feedback we receive about the bridge and the approach roads, the upgrades will be welcomed because they will ultimately reduce travel times and provide smoother journeys.
“The current toll was set during the American Civil War and it too needs to be brought into the 21st century, which will be the best way of funding these improvements, accepting that no action is not a sustainable way forward.”