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The Tamar Bridge is a major road bridge at Saltash in southwest England carrying traffic between Cornwall and Devon. When it opened in 1961 it was the longest suspension bridge in the United Kingdom. In 2001 it became the world's first suspension bridge to be widened (from three to five lanes) using cantilevers, and the world's first bridge to undergo strengthening and widening work while remaining open to traffic. The five lanes are divided as follows: three lanes carry the A38 trunk road, the fourth is reserved for eastbound local traffic and the fifth for pedestrians and cyclists. Previously all traffic merged and shared the three lanes.
Construction of the Tamar Bridge began in July 1959. Before this, the lowest road crossing of the River Tamar was Gunnislake New Bridge at the village of Gunnislake. This seven-arched granite bridge was built in the early 16th century (c. 1520). It is still in use today but it is only wide enough to carry one lane of traffic. Before the Tamar Bridge was opened, most car drivers wishing to travel between Saltash (on the Cornish side) and the Devon city of Plymouth used car ferries. Today the Tamar Bridge carries approximately 40 000 vehicles every day. It is co-owned by Plymouth City Council and Cornwall Council, and is managed by the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee. A toll of GBP1.50 per car is charged when driving from Cornwall into Devon, although the price is halved using the electronic payment system. Motorcycles do not have to pay.
The Tamar Bridge is located above the Hamoaze, and runs parallel to Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge (sometimes referred to as the Brunel Bridge) which opened in 1859 and is considered to be one of his greatest railway achievements. Both bridges offer wonderful views of the Tamar Valley and Tamar Estuary. The Tamar, Lynher and Tavy Valleys form one of England's thirty-seven Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In the 1950s (and for centuries before this) road users wishing to drive from Saltash to Plymouth had two main choices. They could take a long detour north either to Gunnislake New Bridge (a one-lane medieval bridge), or even further north to the land-link between Devon and Cornwall. Or they could cross the river by ferry. For centuries there was a ferry link between the two counties just downstream from the current bridge, but the ferries did not have sufficient capacity to transport large numbers of vehicles.
After failing to secure government funding for a new road bridge, Plymouth City Council and Cornwall County Council applied for permission to operate a toll bridge for which they received Royal assent in 1957.
The Tamar Bridge was the first major suspension bridge to be constructed in the UK after the Second World War. It was also the longest suspension bridge in the UK at that time. Its central span measures 335m (1100ft).
The bridge was constructed by Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company, and building work began in July 1959. It had a concrete deck, and was capable of carrying lorries up to 38 tonnes. The construction cost over GBP1.5 million, and the bridge opened to traffic in October 1961. H.M. Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother officially opened the bridge on 26 April 1962.
The bridge was three lanes wide (until 2001, see below). Local traffic had to merge with traffic from the A38 trunk road, which runs from Bodmin in Cornwall to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire (approximately 300 miles (490 km)). The point at which the two streams of traffic merged to cross the bridge into Devon was a notorious accident black spot.
In 1961, approximately 4000 vehicles used the Tamar Bridge each day. This had dramatically increased by 1990s. In 1998 the hourly rate during the morning rush hour was 2500 vehicles. The average weekday saw 38 200 vehicles cross the bridge and the summer weekday flow was even higher at 42 900 (the Tamar Bridge is an important tourist route into Cornwall). In contrast, the Torpoint ferry link could transport a maximum of 300 vehicles per hour. The Torpoint Ferries operate between the Cornish town of Torpoint and the Devon city of Plymouth; this is more southerly crossing than the Tamar Bridge, linking Torpoint and the Rame Peninsula to Devon. As such it is not in competition with the Tamar Bridge, in fact the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee manage the bridge, and revenue from its tolls subsidise the Torpoint ferries.
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