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UK Prime Minister Proposes Underground Roundabout

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently proposed yet another transportation pitch regarding the connection of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, this time suggesting the construction of tunnels and a giant underground roundabout beneath the Isle of Man.

Nicknamed the Douglas Junction after the Isle of Man’s capital, if approved, the subterranean rotary would feature several connecting tunnels.

Previous Connection Proposals

In 2018, during his time as a foreign secretary, Johnson proposed the idea of a 28-mile-long Irish Sea bridge. At the time, the idea was unwelcomed, with one expert claiming that “no sane contractor or responsible government” would go through with the proposal.

However, Johnson’s proposal wasn’t the only idea to come forward. Also in 2018, the Democratic Unionist party came out in support of a separate bridge that would connect Northern Ireland and Scotland.

According to Scottish architect Alan Dunlop—who originally suggested the Northern Ireland-Scotland bridge—the construction of the span would cost much less than Johnson’s proposal, and it would also establish more economic benefits in the two countries.

According to Dunlop, the amount of shipping traffic on the English Channel is economically prohibitive for building a span there. The architect estimated that a bridge in that area would cost 120 billion pounds ($169 billion), but a span between the two Celtic countries could be built for considerably less—a combined road and rail crossing that would cost between 15 billion pounds and 20 billion pounds.

The biggest obstacle to overcome would be a 2-mile-wide deep-sea trench off the coast of Scotland, but this could be overcome with a floating bridge design, noted the architect.

Johnson’s English Channel bridge would be between the Mull of Kintyre and Torr Head on the Antrim Coast, and while these two areas are only 12 miles apart and the sea is shallower, the four-hour drive from the central belt to Mull of Kintyre would deter the amount of traffic needed to justify the span.

The following year, Johnson’s idea was revived with a mimicked price tag of 15 billion pounds—a number configured only after the United Kingdom would leave the European Union. At the time, Johnson requested that government officials look into where money could come from to fund the project and to evaluate the risks associated with the infrastructure—one worry was that of unexploded bombs located in the sea from World War II.

Additionally, James Duncan, a retired offshore engineer from Edinburgh noted that, “For a great part of the 22-mile route the water is more than 1,000 feet deep. It would require about 30 support towers at least 1,400 feet high to carry the road deck across the deepest part and above the shipping channel. In total the bridge would require 54 towers, of heights never achieved anywhere in the world.”

In September, Johnson requested that the Treasury and Department for Transport prepare a feasibility study examining the costs and risks of a possible link. And in December, the Democratic Unionist Party used the bridge idea as part of its manifesto, insisting that the infrastructure would return more value than HS2.

By February of last year, a spokesperson announced that U.K. officials were officially looking into Johnson’s idea, although no timeline was released for the project. While the plans for the project were noted to be in the very early stages of development, reports claimed that the construction of the infrastructure could be part bridge and part tunnel, as to avoid the unexploded bombs within the water.

At the time of the announcement, the project was re-estimated, revealing that the costs raised yet again to about 20 billion pounds.

Douglas Junction

According to reports, when originally proposed as a single link between Stranraer, Scotland and Larne, Northern Ireland, officials concluded that the project was impractical. Now however, officials have issued a new proposal with tunnels sprouting from Stranraer, Belfast in Northern Ireland, and Heysham and Liverpool in England.

“The idea was that these three tunnels would meet in a giant roundabout underneath the Isle of Man and the tunnel to Ireland would start there,” a source told The Sunday Times. “Everyone knows Boris wants to do this so people were asked to look at how.”

Built beneath the Isle of Man, the proposed tunnel system and roundabout avoids a series of issues faced by the possible construction of a connecting bridge, most notably, crossing Beaufort's Dyke—the trench hosting unexploded bombs and ammunition from World War II.

A feasibility study for the proposal is slated to receive a green light in the upcoming weeks, although, like other connection proposals, the project has also been met by much skepticism.

“The reporting on the prime minister proposing a roundabout under the Isle of Man does not sound credible,” said Dunlop. “If it is true, then I cannot think why Boris Johnson would say that at a time when there is so much criticism being levelled at the so-called Boris’ Burrow in much of the media. It only serves to undermine that which I know to be structurally, technically and physically achievable: a tunnel or bridge that connects Scotland with Northern Ireland.”

In the meantime, the government is considering other formal proposals submitted for an Irish Sea link as part of its ongoing Union Connectivity Review. Proposals include not just connection plans, but also how the area’s transportation infrastructure can be improved via road, rail, and air, as well as across the Irish Sea.


Tagged categories: EU; Europe; Government; Infrastructure; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Roads/Highways; Transportation; Tunnel

Comment from Simon Wadsworth, (3/4/2021, 11:39 AM)

The English Channel is between England and France. I think you mean the North Channel (Scotland to N Ireland) and the Irish Sea (Wales to the Republic of Ireland)?

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