Wednesday 18th July 1934
HM King George V opened the 2.13-mile Mersey (Queensway) tunnel, joining Birkenhead to Liverpool. Costing £4.75 million, it is the longest road tunnel in the UK. 200,000 people watched the opening ceremony from the Old Haymarket entrance, in Liverpool. The tunnel contains a single carriageway of four lanes, two in each direction. Different height restrictions apply to the nearside and offside lanes in each direction, because of the curvature of the tunnel. These are 3.9 metres (13 ft) and 4.75 metres (15.6 ft) respectively, and there is a 3.5 t weight limit for goods vehicles. All buses are required to use the offside lane, regardless of their height. Lane signals (consisting of an illuminated green arrow or red cross) are displayed at regular intervals, although in normal circumstances none of the lanes are currently used bidirectionally. This is in contrast to the Kingsway Tunnel, where lanes in toll concourse are alternated to prioritise higher traffic in one direction during peak hours.The tunnel has two branches leading off the main tunnel to the dock areas on both sides of the river. The Birkenhead branch tunnel (known as the Rendel Street branch) was closed in 1965. When travelling in the Birkenhead direction, the branch can still be seen inside the tunnel on the right just before the left hand bend towards the Birkenhead exit. The exit of this branch can also be seen on the outside from Rendell Street near the junction with Marcus Street, just north of Cleveland Street in Birkenhead. This branch also carried 2 way traffic, single lane each way. It was also controlled by traffic lights inside the tunnel. This branch mainly served Birkenhead docks and for people travelling to the Wirral resort of New Brighton. These are now best served by the Kingsway tunnel. The Liverpool branch tunnel remains in use, in the exit direction only. It emerges opposite the Liver Building, next to the Atlantic Tower Hotel and Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas. Originally, it carried two-way traffic and the junction inside the tunnel was controlled by traffic lights, but this arrangement was discontinued to reduce the delays brought on by increasing traffic levels. When driving through the tunnel, it appears as semi-circular. It is circular, however, and the area below the roadway is known as Central Avenue. The roadway acts freestanding. The area beneath the roadway was planned to house an electric tram route, but it was instead used to house a gas pipe, which was later abandoned. It is still used – it is the main ventilation fresh air supply duct. It also carries services (cables, pipes etc.). In April 2004 construction began of seven emergency refuges below the road deck, each capable of holding 180 people, as part of a £9 million project to bring the tunnel into line with the highest European safety standards. Each refuge is 21 metres (69 ft) long and 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide, accessible from the main tunnel walls. The refuges have fire resistant doors, ramps for wheelchair access, a supply of bottled water, a toilet, and a video link to the Mersey Tunnels Police control room. All seven refuges are linked by a walkway below the road surface, with exits at the Liverpool and Birkenhead ends. In September 2009, a scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 was filmed in the tunnel, where Harry skips on a bus while on Hagrid’s enchanted motorbike was filmed in the tunnel. In 2012 the tunnel was used for the filming of a chase scene for Fast & Furious 6. In 2012 the tunnel was refurbished, with 5999 added panels – ceramic steel cladding replacing the old plastic corrugated wall cladding to improve lighting and to give the Tunnel a 21st Century look.