The Tyne Tunnels are a series of three byways (pedestrian, cycle and vehicular) which pass under the River Tyne between Jarrow on the south bank and Howdon on the north. The road tunnel forms a section of the main arterial A19 trunk road.
They were constructed during 1947-67 as a result of the passing of the Tyne Tunnel Act – though the scheme had been proposed a decade previously by the Durham and Northumberland county councils. Post-war frugality delayed the vehicular underpass, but the pedestrian and cycle tunnels were completed and opened by 1951 – both stretching some 900ft and lying around 40ft below the river bed. The huge wooden escalators at either end are record-breaking constructions in their own right, but will soon be superseded by more modern affairs.
The much larger and longer (5,500ft) road tunnel was eventually completed in 1967, and was ‘opened’ by The Queen on 19th October of that year (though it was not opened to traffic until 1968). It has always been a toll tunnel – originally 2s 6d for cars (now £1.20).
A second vehicular tunnel was completed in February 2011, and, as I write, the old tunnel is undergoing a period of closure for renovation. The new ‘double-tunnel’ will then be re-opened fully in December 2011, by which time the revamp of the pedestrian-cycle tunnel will be well underway. By the end of 2012 all of the tunnels should be fully functional and modernised – though the wooden escalators will be preserved for posterity. After all, the tunnels are Grade II listed.