Critics of toll increases for the Tyne Tunnel have been slammed for being ‘late to the party’.
The cost of using the crossing will rise by 10p for cars from Sunday, leading to accusations motorists are being used as ‘cash cows’.
Sunderland’s opposition Liberal Democrats have urged transport bosses to follow the example of the Humber Bridge and Severn Crossing, which have seen fares axed or frozen.
But Graeme Miller, the Labour leader of Sunderland City Council, has defended the new £1.80 charge and questioned why it has taken the Lib Dems so long to raise their concerns.
He said: “The Tyne Tunnel project started in 2008, when work started to expand the tunnel.
“It was terrible then, there were massive queues and it was damaging the Tyne and Wear economy, so to expand was necessary and it cost £139million.
“The tolls are an integral part of that project to fund it and keep it maintained and up to date going forward.
“[The Liberal Democrats are] coming late to the party with their view of a project planned over a decade ago.”
Coun Miller was responding to comments made this week by newly elected Lib Dem councillor Heather Fagan, who also called for more government funding to decrease tolls or eliminate them completely.
Fare increases for the Tyne Tunnel, which will also rise by 20p for vans and HGVs, were approved in the New Year by the North East Joint Transport Committee.
Cash collected pays for maintenance and management of the tunnels and goes towards debts from the crossing’s original construction.
Transport bosses have insisted tolls rise inline with the Retail Price Index (RPI) for inflation and this is the first rise since 2016.
Fares were eliminated from the Severn Crossing between England and Wales last year (2018), but Tyne Tunnel chiefs have previously said they are unlikely to be able to follow this example.
It previously cost £5.60 to head into the principality via the route, although it was free to leave.
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service