Silvertown tunnel excavation work
The tunnel boring machine arrived at the Greenwich chamber on February 15.

The first bore of the Silvertown tunnel has been dug, but construction of the controversial new route is running increasingly behind schedule.

Riverlinx, the company that is building and will operate the controversial road tunnel on behalf of Transport for London, said the milestone was reached on February 15, five and a half months after construction began on the tunnel.

The tunnel boring machine, named Jill after London’s first female bus driver, now sits in a rotation chamber, a large hole in the ground, off Millennium Way on the Greenwich peninsula. It will be dismantled, turned around, and reassembled so you can head north and dig the second borehole.

When work began, TfL predicted that the tunnel would open in early 2025. The year before, that date was moved to the following April. Now, the completion date has been pushed back to June 2025, according to documents released this week. TfL blames a “shortage of skilled labor and supply of building materials”.

A102 traffic jam at night on the Woolwich Road flyover
The tunnel will funnel traffic into the evening rush hour queue in Greenwich

TfL is also £13m above its £173m budget for construction, which it attributes to inflation. Riverlinx will cover the bulk of the costs of over £2bn, which will be paid for by tolls on the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels.

Campaigners against the tunnel, who say it will increase congestion and pollution and is incompatible with climate change commitments, have called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to halt work after the first boring to consider ideas such as use it for a tram or the extension of the Docklands Light Railway. .

Both Greenwich Council leader Anthony Okereke and his Newham counterpart Rohksana Fiaz have criticized the road project, with Fiaz calling it “insanity”.

But Khan has dismissed opponents as a “vocal minority” and insisted the tunnel, from the mainland to Royal Docks, is needed to combat persistent northbound queues at the 126-year-old Blackwall Tunnel. The new highway will have a dedicated lane for heavy vehicles and buses, but will not allow bicycling or walking.

TfL has gone on to describe the scheme as a “public transport focused” tunnel, but only two bus routes are set to use the junction since its opening date.

Silvertown Tunnel Rotation Chamber
The workers are now preparing to dig the second tunnel.

Riverlinx says work on the second hole will be complete by the end of the summer. Work will soon start on a new footbridge across the A102 just south of the Blackwall Tunnel. This will allow the construction of a flyover that will carry traffic from Blackwall to the south over the entrance to the new tunnel.

Helen Wright, Silvertown Tunnel project manager for TfL, said: “The completion of the first bore of the Silvertown Tunnel is a huge milestone for the project. Work is now underway to rotate the tunnel boring machine inside the rotation chamber, which is an innovative and complex process, so the drilling of the second tunnel can start in the next few weeks.

“We are committed to working hard to ensure this project is delivered with minimal impact to those who live, work and visit the local area and we have extensive monitoring in place to ensure this continues to be the case during and after construction.”

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