John Graney Online
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The Question of a Fixed Link
A Personal View
I have been asked about this and had a think about it. I had not really crystallised my thoughts on the subject beyond that I did not believe it would ever happen.

I have no objection to a feasibility study being made as long as it is comprehensive and that would not be possible unless and until the central government gets it into its corporate head that the Isle of Wight is indeed just that; an Island! It seems to me sometimes that there are people in high places who simply do not know that we are physically, socially and economically detached from South Hampshire and cannot simply be lumped in with them for all purposes. The suggestion from London that we should share an MP with Portsmouth was totally unacceptable and unworkable but served to illustrate the mindset of the people who made it.

An acceptable feasibility study would include not only the engineering question behind the construction of a road, rail or light rail tunnel or bridge but also contain a realistic assessment of the social, economic and infrastructure consequential affects of a fixed link. The affects on the island as a whole and particularly on the place where any road connection is made would have to be shown to be beneficial in all senses. At the moment (without having seen the results) I find it hard to believe that a properly conducted feasibility study which properly examines all the issues will recommend a high-volume road link. Any study should be conducted at the minimum necessary cost with a view to finally settling the issue.

In particular the projected volume of traffic would have to be realistically assessed. It is well established that when a new road is built to accommodate an existing volume of traffic, that volume of traffic is surpassed in fairly short order. (The phenomenon of induced (or latent) demand.) Unless the volume of traffic using the tunnel is controlled, perhaps by a pricing system we could have many, many thousands of additional vehicles on the Isle of Wight. If the tariff for a car were enough to deter the extra volume of traffic we would be in the same position that we are in now. (Unless Island residents were entitled to very much reduced toll charges.) Given that, the feasibility of the project will depend on the commercial prospects for any contractor. The question is: Would either the current level of vehicle movements of about two million per annum or the prospect of doubling that be likely to attract investment?

We do need economical and fast and reliable connections to the mainland to enable our people, particularly our young people, to take advantage of the work and educational opportunities available whilst maintaining their lives on the Isle of Wight. This could be achieved with reform of the ferry services along the lines of the way these things are done in Scotland. Such government support could also be used to ensure that adequate backup resources are in place to cover equipment failure or periods of high demand.

Failing that a rail, or light rail, tunnel with a single tube, allowing one train or tram to pass through at a time would have a much shorther crossing time and possible cut costs dramatically. I do not know of any fixed (non ferry) crossing anywhere else on the UK rail system where passengers are charged at a premium for using it. (The Channel Tunnel is a link to another rail system so not an exception.) The base fare should be what you would pay for a ride of that distance.

I am neither an engineer nor a geologist but I believe that any study should investigate such a tunnel either between Lepe and Cowes or Gilkicker Point and Ryde. Both would require extensive and expensive infrastructure improvements on both the island and the mainland side. (Although at both places track bed from a previous railway is available for much of the distance from the main rail network.) At all of these places the construction of an artificial sea island near the shore for the trains to enter and emerge from the tunnel is possible but would not be, by any measure, a cheap option (it has been done many times see Chesapeake Bay tunnel or the ├śresund.

To sum up:

The ferry companies could be made subject to pricing controls in the same way as elsewhere.

A road tunnel or bridge, whether or not feasible in engineering terms would need seriousis study of the knock-on affects.

A light rail tunnel solution would be for foot traffic only and not at all cheap.

I have no objection to a feasibility study taking place given the conditions set out above.

Where are we going to get all that money?