Tyne Tunnels operator TT2 has drawn up plans to minimise queues at the busy crossings by installing new technology.
That could include the removal of the barriers and use of Advanced Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), meaning all motorists could drive straight through the toll booths and pay online for their journey later.
The North East Combined Authority’s transport sub-committee was told on Thursday that, while full details of the plans are not finalised, the upgrades would mean easier journeys for drivers and improved air quality around the tunnels.
Philip Smith, TT2 chief executive, said the existing system will not be fit for purpose in the coming years, adding: “If we are going to make a change we should do it sooner rather than later.”
He added that TT2 had a “good set of proposals” and indicated that a decision would be made by December – when he delivers a two-year budget plan – as to whether the project will be brought forward in the next two years.
Coun Joyce McCarty, deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, told the meeting: “The implementation of this will help us.
“I know that there have been problems either side of the tunnel with roadworks, but now those are out of the way this will help to speed things up and clean up the air around the tunnels.”
The tunnels – connecting Jarrow and North Shields – do currently operate an automatic recognition system for permit holders, which uses an electronic tag is attached to a vehicle’s windscreen – meaning regular tunnel users can pay in advance for trips.
Other drivers must deposit the £1.70 charge in cash at the toll booths, which do not accept notes or give change.
A 20p charge for motorcyclists using the tunnel was lifted in 2011 in a bid to reduce congestion at the toll booths, which are located on the north side of the crossing.
A detailed report on the practical, financial and legal implications of the plans will be brought before councillors at a future meeting of the committee.
Daniel Holland , Local Democracy Reporting Service