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Why are motorists still being charged for the Itchen Toll Bridge?
IT IS a journey that mum Patsy Harcuss must make in order to have hospital appointments and to see her son.
Every time Patsy’s husband Eric takes her from the eastern side of the Itchen Bridge to a city hospital or to see her beloved son Alan in Millbrook she has to fork out at least 50p to cross the bridge.
Patsy suffers from a form of arthritis and a spinal disability but she has to add £1.20 on her journey every time she goes to see the doctor and make the return journey home.
Mrs Harcuss’s daughter, Claire Sivyour recently asked Southampton City Council why motorists still have to pay the toll.
“Why are there still charges to use the Itchen toll bridge?”
Mrs Sivyour asked at Court Leet this week. “Now that it’s being automated surely the intention is that it will now never be free?”
Patsy’s level of disability means that she can drive across free, but her husband has to pay when she is in the car.
“It’s not just my issue, it’s everybody’s issue,” said Mrs Harcuss, 55. “Why are we still paying for it?”
It’s the question that many people continue to ask.
Before the bridge was introduced in 1977, anyone wanting to cross the River Itchen would have to be ferried across on a chain-pulled floating bridge, which had been in use since the 1830s.
In June 1977 that was replaced by the £12 million concrete bridge allowing vehicles to cross the water 24 metres above the surface.
In the first week 55,600 vehicles crossed the Itchen Bridge and now seven million people drive across it each year.
Last year a £1m overhaul saw repairs done to the 62,000-tonne bridge’s supporting structure while blue lights were placed on top of the bridge at a cost of between £100,000 and £200,000.
It has raised more than £50m in tolls since they were introduced to “regulate traffic flows” although the automated tolls are said to improve traffic flows.
But if motorists are feeling bad crossing the Itchen Bridge feel bad for others who have to go across other toll bridges.
Many drivers heading to Wales rummage around their pockets trying to find £6 in their wallet before they cross the Severn Bridge – but drivers coming back into England don’t have to pay a thing.
Motorists heading across the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol will have fork out 50p to get across while another landmark bridge in the north of the country sees car drivers paying £1.50 to cross the Humber Bridge in Hull.
The opening of the M6 toll road in 2005 saw a small reduction in congestion around Birmingham, but not much. Perhaps it was the £5.50 fare during the week which led to only 50,000 motorists using the 27-mile stretch of road.
The only UK toll that has been withdrawn is that of the Forth Road Bridge, spanning the Firth of Forth in eastern Scotland.
After much debate the Scottish Parliament voted to withdraw the toll which varied in price throughout the day in 2008.
So will the Itchen Bridge toll be withdrawn any time soon?
Southampton City Council have said that the toll does not pay for the initial cost of the bridge but to maintain it.
Their website said: “The tolls are not in place solely to pay for the construction and maintenance of the bridge. They were introduced because the building of such a bridge would increase the volumes of private and commercial traffic from all over the region, particularly during peak times.”
The bridge is meant to be used primarily for those living in Woolston not to cut across the city which is why commercial vehicles have to pay a fee of £25.
A spokesman from Southampton City Council was not available for further comment.