Plans for Cambridge underground

Image credit: Mike Knell

Cambridge City Council is considering proposals to combat traffic problems by introducing a network of underground ‘bus tunnels’ in and around central Cambridge.

One key design project, supervised by Professor Robert Mair, investigated the technical and economic feasibility of a system of underground tunnels providing passage for buses. These would lead from Coldhams Common to the Grafton Centre and Christ’s Pieces on the eastern side of Cambridge, and from Castle Hill underneath the River Cam and down to Park Street, North of the city centre.

Professor Mair has rejected the “common misconception” that “unfavourable geology”, such as water- logged areas, would prove an obstacle to tunnelling, and stated that “much of the city is underlain by Gault Clay, which is strong enough to be ideal for tunnelling, and the high water table presents no technical problems.

“New tunnelling technologies, successfully proven in similar clays in the London area and elsewhere in the world, now mean that tunnels under Cambridge merit serious consideration.”

The scheme, first drawn up in 2008 would be dependent upon the release of funds from central government, and is one of several options currently being discussed to solve Cambridge’s growing congestion problems.

Any intended project would have to be integrated with the new Science Park rail station, targeted to open in 2015, which was given the go-ahead last month. It would also be expected to provide easy access to the city centre from Northstowe, a proposed new town to the northwest of Cambridge, which will otherwise rely largely on the current Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. The Busway, which opened in August 2011, was criticised after construction delays and rocketing costs. An extension and expansion of the current Busway is another option under consideration.

Asked whether the tunnel project would disrupt city and university life, Professor Mair insisted that an underground system would not harm the historic centre, stating: “There would be minimal damage to overlying buildings.”

However, not all residents are convinced. Dr Rosanna Omitowoju, a Cambridge resident, academic, and mother of four, thinks there is no need to introduce an expensive new system, adding: “Cambridge is a great city to cycle in and I think that schemes which really try to make cycling an even more viable option (especially for people who live outside the central areas) should be explored fully before something like this is looked at.”

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