4-lane airport tunnel taking shape

Joe Garcia
Pic Michelle Schembri Vinet
Pic Michelle Schembri Vinet

It could be said there is now light at the end of the airport tunnel, as the excellent pictures we publish show. The construction of the tunnel works have been entangled in all kinds of problems over the years, even a major legal battle.

 But now, if all goes to plan, the tunnel and associated road works should be complete towards the end of this year.

The contract for the tunnel was in fact terminated in 2011 by the previous GSD government after a row with the Spanish contractors.

Then in 2016, OHL and the new Government reached an agreement according to which the Spanish construction company resumed the works which had been paralysed.

Now, if all goes to plan, the tunnel and associated road works should be complete towards the end of this year. 'November 2018' has been pencilled in as the completion date.

The tunnel, which cuts across the edge of the eastern end of the runway, has been deemed to be an essential part of a new road structure.

Apart from the actual tunnel underneath the runway, two round-abouts are due to be built one near the frontier entry point and another in Devil's Tower Road beyond the new tunnel exit.

The airfield traffic arrangements as they stand today, such as having a main roadway crossing the runway, have contributed to the airport being regarded internationally as one of the world's most dangerous.

Despite such a slur, this has been a very safe airfield, taking in both commercial and military air traffic and forever increasing road traffic.

But now that a 4-lane tunnel is being built, for vehicular traffic, motorcycles and pedestrians,the question is being asked if both vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be removed fom the present road that runs across the runway.

The airport tunnel is due for completion towards the end of next year, but a point of contention will need to be resolved before then, which is if both vehicular and pedestrian traffic will be barred from using the present road that runs across the runway.

The view that has been gaining weight in military circles is that all traffic should cease to use the runway road once the airport tunnel is operational.

Otherwise, the MOD would have to retain present services on a 24-hourly basis at each end of the runway road, as well as other services, all of which may not be cost effective as a viable alternative will be in place. The runway road should remain available only for emergency services as exit and entry points to the airfield, if and when required.

A number of ideas have been considered, such as that only pedestrians should be allowed to cross the runway or that there should be a bus shuttle service, but such services would not remove safety considerations. The MOD could be right when it says that all traffic should be conveyed in and out of Gibraltar via the new airport tunnel and related road arrangements.

The new Gibraltar exit road will take the route of Devil's Tower Road, up to the junction with Eastern Beach Road. At that point there will be a large roundabout. The main road will then U-turn to the North through the site known as the Aerial Farm, passing parallel to Eastern Beach Road but behind the ex-Mediterranean Hotel building, and then passing under a tunnel at the Eastern end of the runway.

Once it emerges from the tunnel on the north side of the runway the new road will run parallel to the frontier, passing under the air terminal fly-over section. It will then branch into two, with one road leading to the loop and the frontier, and another leading to the Air Terminal, North Front and part of Winston Churchill Avenue to where the present traffic barrier stands, where all traffic will end.

It would appear that Government would favour that pedestrians will not be required to travel via the new airport tunnel , and should continue to cross the runway at the present location. This is a moot point.

When the armed forces minister visited Gibraltar last November he made the point that the whole area in question is a military airfield.