Going underground? Saltash tunnel to get “once-in-a-generation” facelift, as motorists are warned to expect months of delays

Posted By on 9th September 2023

By Rashleigh MacFarlane

Motorists who use the Saltash tunnel to access the Tamar Bridge face months of delays.

Speed restrictions and diversions are to start on 18th September to prepare for essential refurbishment and modernisation – the first works of their kind for more than 20 years.  The target date for completion is 20th December.

The £11 million tunnel is now a vital part of the A38, by-passing what was once a congested route through the town of Saltash.

The three lane, 408m long tunnel was built by contractor Balfour Beatty between 1986 and 1988.  Almost immediately the concrete walls cracked and dirty water started seeping into the tunnel.

The problem gradually got worst and bits of concrete started to fall onto the road.  After years of concern and mounting political pressure, the 1997 general election brought a change of government and an £8 million refurbishment scheme, including new steel linings.

The fact that the coming refurbishment is costing £20 million – more than double the original construction costs – reflects how prices have risen.

National Highways is now carrying out the current project two years after a “once-in-a-generation” resurfacing of the bridge, which caused long delays for five months in 2021.

National Highways says it will upgrade the tunnel and traffic control system, electrical distribution, lighting, fans and electronic signage.

Site preparation work, including the removal of old cabling, will take place ahead of and alongside a speed reduction scheme to improve safety on roads leading to and around the tunnel.

The speed limit on the A38 between the Saltash Tunnel and Carkeel roundabout will be lowered from 70mph to 50mph, with average speed cameras being installed to enforce the 30mph limit through the tunnel and on the B3271 and North Road diversion routes.

Julian Mitchell, National Highways’ tunnel manager, said: “The tunnel is safe but it is essential that we replace our systems which have been operating for more than 20 years.

“We’re currently in the detailed design and construction planning stages, and in the meantime, while the speed reduction scheme takes place, we’ll be preparing the site by stripping out the outdated and redundant equipment and cleaning and preparing cable routes for the kilometres of cabling that will need to be installed.

“There’s been a considerable amount of planning over several years to identify efficiencies and reduce the number of future maintenance closures and once we have a timeframe for next year’s upgrade work, we’ll communicate that in advance and will hold stakeholder and public open days to provide further information.

“The speed reduction measures are much needed and we see the scheme as part of the overall programme.

“This section of the A38 sees a number of minor collisions as motorists try to reduce speed quickly on the approach to the tunnel and the Carkeel roundabout, and we are aware of vehicles exceeding the speed limit along the B3271 North Road diversion route when we close the tunnel.”

To enable the modernisation prep work the tunnel will be closed on weeknights, from 8pm to 6am, between Monday, 18 September and 7 October, with traffic diverted via the B3271 and North Road.


New speed limits are to be introduced between the Carkeel roundabout and the tunnel

Photo: Lewis Clarke/CC

For the speed reduction scheme, the Saltash tunnel and A38 to the Carkeel roundabout will be closed overnight, on weeknights only, between 2 October and 24 October.

The overnight closures will be in place from 8pm to 6am, and from 25 October to 7 November two-way traffic signals will be in place overnight on the B3271 and North Road.

The final phase of work will see weeknight overnight closures of the tunnel and the A38 up to Carkeel roundabout in place between 8 November and 20 December, with two-way traffic signals continuing along the B3271 and North Road, overnight only.

Mr Mitchell added: “We appreciate that the schemes will impact on road users and Saltash residents, but we’re keeping the closures to an absolute minimum and we thank all drivers and residents in advance for their co-operation and patience while we carry out this essential safety work.

“Being a bi-directional tube with three lanes and tidal flow, and connecting to the private Tamar Toll Bridge, the tunnel is unique, and it’s difficult to work safely within the structure without closing it overnight. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience and advise people to plan ahead and allow a little extra time for their overnight journeys.”

During the work, drivers can obtain up-to-the-minute travel information on local radio, the @HighwaysSWEST Twitter feed, by phoning the National Highways Information Line on 0300 123 5000 or by accessing the website: http://www.trafficengland.com

And for more details on the scheme and National Highways’ other work in the South West go to https://nationalhighways.co.uk/our-work/south-west/


This article has 1 comment

  1. I don’t get this. Not long ago the tunnel was closed on many occasions, we were told it was being re-cabled future services, which never seem to have appeared. Is all this going to be trashed, unused?

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