Motorists have hit out after it emerged hundreds-of-thousands of pounds were collected in Tyne Tunnel tolls while drivers endured traffic chaos after a major fire.

The huge blaze in Newcastle’s Carliol Square spelled chaos for motorists in June when clean-up work closed the motorway through the city for ten days, leaving them with a choice of long delays or seeking an alternative route through the tunnel.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that during this time the Tyne Tunnel collected an extra £326,000 in tolls, compared to the same period last year.

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However, TT2 - which is responsible for the day-to-day management and operation of the tunnels - said the figures “cannot be compared” because of a 16 per cent toll hike since last July.

And it disputed that the increase in traffic can be accounted for solely by disruption due to the fire, claiming there had been a  "significant" rise in numbers using the tunnel over the year.

But even adjusted for the price increase it made approximately £200,000 extra over the ten-day closure period.

Between June 29 and July 7 when the A167(M) Central Motorway was closed TT2, which runs the Tyne Tunnels, made more than a million pounds (£1,025,873.42) in tolls, £326,000 more than the same week a year earlier (£699,803.53).

On June 28 more than 50 firefighters battled flames in a former strip club with smoke billowing above the city centre. An arson investigation was launched.

The Northern Echo: The fire caused chaos when the A167(M) Central Motorway had to be closed Northbound.The fire caused chaos when the A167(M) Central Motorway had to be closed Northbound. (Image: NORTH NEWS)

A TT2 spokesperson said: “The revenue figures quoted for the same week in 2022 and 2023 cannot be compared because they are not a like-for-like comparison - crucially, during the intervening 12 months there was a toll increase introduced.

“In addition, non-compliance also improved from 3.48 per cent in June 2022, to 2.6 per cent in June 2023 – meaning that increasing numbers of people are paying their toll.

“Since TT2 introduced open-road-tolling, journey times have reduced and convenience has increased, resulting in a significant rise in the numbers of journeys being made through the Tyne Tunnels."

A huge clear up operation took place with the unsafe building flattened and the road only fully reopened four weeks later.

The Central Motorway was closed northbound forcing vehicles out to the Tyne Tunnel, A1 or Redheugh Bridge to get back to the Newcastle side of the river.

A concerned motorist, who submitted the FOI request, said they feared a similar issue due to work starring on the restorration of the Tyne Bridge, adding: “It shows just how much more traffic the Tyne Tunnel will handle once the Tyne Bridge is out of action, and how much more revenue TT2 will pocket.

“When the bridge is closed, many motorists will face an unappetising choice between huge queues to get home late or shelling out more money to use the toll.

“Given drivers are already getting hammered at the pumps, and we are in a cost-of-living crisis, TT2 should do the right thing during the bridge renovation work and pass some of those profits back to drivers, who didn’t ask for – nor wanted – all this disruption.”

The Northern Echo: TT2, which runs the Tyne Tunnel, made an extra £326k in revenue while the Central Motorway was closed.TT2, which runs the Tyne Tunnel, made an extra £326k in revenue while the Central Motorway was closed. (Image: NCJ MEDIA)

Another driver said: “I can’t believe they made so much money when everyone was struggling to get to work or home.”

The TT2 spokesperson added: “The North East Joint Transport Committee, Tyne and Wear Sub Committee, sets the level of the toll and discounts. TT2, as the operator of the Tyne Tunnels is responsible for collecting the toll payments.

“Both the toll and any pre-paid balances are paid directly to the local authorities into a ring-fenced Tyne Tunnels account. The tolls are used by the local authorities to pay TT2 to operate and maintain the tunnels, and to repay the debts incurred in the construction of the second tunnel.”

An arson investigation was launched after the blaze and eight people were arrested. They remain on police bail at this time.

No further arrests have been made, Northumbria Police said.

Work to restore the Tyne Bridge to its former glory got underway on Monday (September 11), a day after runners made their way over the iconic crossing during the Great North Run.

Drivers have been warned to expect heavy disruption from early 2024 – from which point two of the bridge’s four lanes will be closed. It will mean drivers have to find other routes across the river, including the tunnels.

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A Transport North East spokesperson said: “The level of the Tyne Tunnel toll is set out in legislation and is reviewed annually. The toll payment is required to meet the financial and contractual repayments in place following the construction of the second road tunnel.

“Ahead of the forthcoming Tyne Bridge restoration works, we are working closely with partners including Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council and Nexus to ensure that transport mitigation measures are in place to minimise disruption for all. 

“Due to the lane restrictions during the works, motorists will be advised to use public transport and active travel where possible to travel over the Tyne Bridge. Further details of all mitigation measures will be announced by partners at a later date.”