Five alternative routes have been published for a possible new tunnel under the Pennines – a project described by the Department for Transport as the most ambitious road scheme in the UK for half of century.
General proposals for a new multi-billion-pound road tunnel were first published last year as the Government responded to criticisms of the dire current links between Sheffield and Manchester.
The plans were welcomed by Lancashire and North West business chiefs and transport experts who said good East to West road links were vital for the NorthernPowerhouse.
Now the Trans-Pennine Study has been updated with five possible routes which the department said would almost halve the journey time between the two cities.
Each of the proposed corridors would involve a tunnel at least 10 miles long, with the longest possibility being 18 miles.
All of the routes link the M60 Manchester ring road to the M1 north of Sheffield.
Four of them would utilise the M67 – dubbed “the motorway to nowhere” – the route which exemplifies frustrations over current trans-Pennine transportation as it runs for just five miles from the M60 before giving way to the single carriageways of the windswept and winding Woodhead and Snake passes.
Calls for a new road between Manchester and Sheffield have been made for decades.
But the Peak District National Park has provided the main obstacle, with no-one willing to drive a six-carriageway motorway through the moors. A tunnel has been seen as the only realistic way of spanning the highest ground and linking the two cities, which are only 35 miles apart, as the crow flies.
John Cridland, chairman of Transport for the North, said: “The study shows a tunnel beneath the Pennines would both boost the economy of the region and potentially benefit the environment of the Peak District by reducing traffic in the national park.
“This is just one of the visionary projects Transport for the North is working on, as well as other schemes, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, as we continue to develop a Transport and Investment Strategy to connect the North and transform its economy.”
Last year, the interim report on such a tunnel gave no details about routes or terminal locations.