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Airport tunnel opens on Friday

Photos by Johnny Bugeja

The airport tunnel will open to all vehicular traffic on Friday, over 14 years since work on the project commenced and marking the first new entry route into Gibraltar since the runway was built during World War II.

As from Friday, the tunnel will be the only regular access point for all cars and motorcycles including commercial vehicles to and from the frontier with Spain, Gibraltar International Airport, Eroski supermarket, Western Beach and Four Corners.

Only pedestrians, cyclists, scooter/e-scooter riders and mobility scooter users will be allowed to cross the runway from that date.

All vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, vans and trucks must use the tunnel via Devil’s Tower Road and the East Gate roundabout.

The tunnel will open at one minute past midnight in the early hours of Friday morning.

Built to British standards, the new airport tunnel provides a two-lane road in each direction accessible via Devil’s Tower Road, with a separate subway to provide a safe route for pedestrians, cyclists, scooter/e-scooter riders and mobility scooter users to travel through the tunnel, should they wish to, via a footbridge accessible from Eastern Beach.

The project has taken 14 years to complete, with the contractors on site for a total of nine years and works suspended for a period of five years due to litigation proceedings.

The original contract was signed in November 2008 by the then Chief Minister Sir Peter Caruana.

Prior to the tunnel opening, Winston Churchill Avenue is the only road linking Gibraltar to neighbouring Spain.

“I am delighted that this long overdue, critical piece of Gibraltar’s infrastructure will finally be operational this week, over 14 years after the original contract was signed,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“The long gestation of this project has arisen from litigation and disputes where the Gibraltar Government would not accept substandard work not in keeping with British standards.”

“But it was right we should not pay taxpayers’ money for work not in keeping with those contractually agreed standards.”

“This Government’s insistence that the tunnel be completed to the highest British standards as it was originally contracted to be means that the final product is fitted with tried and tested safety features that ensure it is fit for Gibraltar’s unique requirements.”

“For the first time since 1941, the tunnel will enable free flow of vehicles and pedestrians across Gibraltar and will put an end to traffic gridlock caused by the closure of the runway to allow flights to land and take off at the busy Gibraltar International Airport.”

“The tunnel infrastructure includes significant changes to the way vehicles and pedestrians move around Devil’s Tower Road and the area of the frontier, so please exercise caution over the first few weeks, drive carefully and pay close attention to the new road signs and instructions.”

“I am also very pleased that the Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the MoD that will allow pedestrians to continue to cross the runway.”

“This is environmentally significant and positive.”

“Again, the system for pedestrians to cross the runway will also be different from what we are used to, so please pay close attention to the new signs and instructions.”

ROUTES AND SAFETY CHECKS

The Gibraltar Airport runway was built across it in 1941 and incorporated vehicular and pedestrian routes to and from the frontier.

In recent years, the road was closed up to 15 times a day to allow flights to take-off and land.

The new tunnel, for the first time since 1941, enables the uninterrupted flow of traffic from one side of the runway to the other and, according to the Gibraltar Government, will significantly improve traffic flow throughout Gibraltar.

The road from the new roundabout at Devil’s Tower Road to the East Gate roundabout is approximately 1.2km in length, including approximately 350 metres of covered tunnel.

The speed limit within the tunnel may vary from 20-50km per hour according to traffic flow and will always be clearly signposted.

In a statement, No.6 Convent Place said a frontier queue “will not be allowed to accumulate within the tunnel”.

“If vehicular traffic on the frontier/airport side reaches the exit of the tunnel, the entrance on the Devil’s Tower Road side will close temporarily to allow this to clear,” the statement said.

“This is a safety feature to prevent stationary traffic inside the tunnel.”

“Vehicles will then be batched through the tunnel as the frontier traffic clears.”

“Plans are in place to allow for continuous, uninterrupted access to the Air Terminal, Eroski, Four Corners and Western Beach in this scenario.”

The tunnel control room will constantly monitor the traffic in the tunnel and the pedestrian/cycling subway 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Cameras monitored by the control room will automatically detect any vehicle that slows down suddenly or stops within the tunnel.

In case of any emergency, control operators will assume control of the safety support systems in the tunnel and direct and organise tunnel users to safe areas.

They will also be responsible for alerting the emergency services.

In case of emergency, the control room is able to directly issue instructions to tunnel users via a PA system.

This PA system will also take-over any radio frequencies within the tunnel, so that drivers listening to the radio will simultaneously receive the message through their car’s own speakers.

Emergency boxes located at intervals within the tunnel contain an emergency phone, which connects directly to the control room.

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