The engineering consultancy has been appointed by Highways England to undertake a technical study to strengthen the strategic and economic argument for a package of transport schemes including a part-tunnel, part-surface route across the Pennines.
The Trans-Pennine Tunnel Study report will also assess the case for capacity improvements to adjacent sections of the strategic road network – as well as new strategic links to the east and west of the route.
The tunnel was one of the projects included in Transport for the North’s draft Strategic Transport Plan, which was published in late 2017 and went out to public consultation between January and April of this year.
This report will look to spell out yet further the business case and establish a clear way forward for the plan – improving the robustness of Manchester-Sheffield connection has long been regarded as important, but costly, with the Department for Transport estimating the total cost as between £7.8bn and £11.6bn in November 2016.
Studies as part of this project, also involving WSP, looked at the feasibility of a full tunnel route and alternatives to a full tunnel across the Pennines, before deciding that a shorter tunnelled section, using the line of the existing A628 Woodhead Pass, would be the best option, combined with improvements to other roads. In November 2017, Highways England named its preferred option for a new link road at Mottram Moor.
Nasar Malik, project director for WSP, said: “If a stronger case can be made for this package of schemes then this may be the single most important transport intervention to help accelerate the economic growth by bringing closer together two of the North’s great cities.”
WSP’s commitment involves specialists from a number of its teams including transport planning, transport modelling, environmental assessment, project programme and risk management.
With the additional design challenge of working in the Peak District National Park, WSP has already proposed to involve Highways England’s design panel from the outset, and has commissioned a specialist contractor to provide a challenge on the scheme costs, as it seeks to build a robust evidence base for financial forecasting.
Malik added: “This study essentially flows from the recommendations we made on the TfN Wider Connectivity study in 2017. The knowledge and experience we brought from the initial Trans-Pennine Tunnel study, as well as the subsequent Wider Connectivity study for TfN, demonstrated our experience and credentials in this specialist area.
“It is gratifying to see the recommendations from our earlier study having been accepted in full and then Highways England appointing WSP to undertake this follow-on study.”