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Dover Strait - Building a bridge across the strait?

24 years after the opening of the Channel tunnel, the idea of a new fixed-link on Dover Strait has been suggested by Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary, in January 2018. This idea, although making some of Dover Strait inhabitants smile, is not new.

 Great Britain is only physically connected to the European continent by the Channel tunnel, opened on 6 May 1994. The number of trucks transported through the tunnel increases of 13% every year since the tunnel was opened. In 2014, the total value of goods transiting through the tunnel reached about 25% of commercial exchanges between the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU countries. Despite a very important cross-Channel ferry traffic, some may consider the connection insufficient to establish strong links. A few months after the vote in favour of Brexit in the UK, Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, does not lose hope to reinforce the links with the continent.

 

Already in the 19th Century, several proposals of such a bridge were designed. Finally, it is only in the second half of the 20th Century that the decision was made to build a fixed-link; but the choice was in favour of a railway tunnel. In theory, today, with advances in building technologies and successful experiences of similar bridges around the world, such a bridge across the Channel would probably technically feasible – although challenging. Nevertheless, the biggest issue remains that Dover Strait is one of the busiest straits of the world, with important issues to enable massive ships to go under the bridge. As highlighted by Channel 4, “not only would there need to be enough distance between the supports, the bridge would also need to be high enough to allow tall ships from passing underneath”. This would result in very important construction costs.

According to the UK prime minister’s spokesman (BBC news), “what was agreed [at the summit with French president Emmanuel Macron] is a panel of experts who will look at major projects together, including infrastructure. And we want to work very closely with our French colleagues on building a shared, prosperous future”. Questioned more specifically on the idea of a bridge launched by Mr Johnson, the spokesman explained “I haven’t seen any plans on that”.

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