It is known as one of the most unusual runways in the world. Whenever aircraft are taking off or landing, the gates are lowered near the frontier with Spain and on the Gibraltar city side of the runway, and both vehicles and pedestrians are required to wait several minutes until they can continue their journey.
Now everyone can use a new tunnel that has been built under the runway, although limited access will still be available above ground.
Chief minister Fabian Picardo, joined by former chief minister Sir Peter Caruana, officially inaugurated Kingsway – which incorporates the road and tunnels that run from Devil’s Tower Road to the Eastgate roundabout – last week and it was opened to the public at 00.01 am yesterday (31 March).
It is now the only regular access point for all cars and motorcycles (including commercial vehicles) to the frontier, Gibraltar International Airport, Eroski supermarket, Western Beach and Four Corners, thus also becoming the only regular vehicular access point from Gibraltar into Europe.
“I am honoured today,” said Picardo, “to inaugurate Kingsway together with my predecessor, Sir Peter Caruana, under whose administration the tunnel was commissioned. This major national infrastructure project has spanned both our successive governments and has required us, as political opponents and never political enemies, to work towards a long-term goal for the benefit of Gibraltar as a whole. Kingsway will stand as a testament to the collective Gibraltarian spirit and resolve in ensuring the betterment today of the Gibraltar of tomorrow.”
Built to British standards, according to the government, the new airport tunnel provides a two-lane road in each direction that is accessible via Devil’s Tower Road, with a separate subway to provide a safe route for pedestrians, cyclists, scooter/e-scooter riders and mobility scooter users to travel through the tunnel, via a footbridge accessible from Eastern Beach.
Only pedestrians, cyclists, scooter/e-scooter riders and mobility scooter users are still allowed to cross the runway. All vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, vans and trucks, must use the tunnel via Devil’s Tower Road and the East Gate roundabout.
Runway Road Previously Closed 15 Times a Day
“This unprecedented project has taken 14 years to complete,” said the government in a news release, “with the contractors on site for a total of nine years whilst works were suspended for a period of five years due to litigation proceedings. The original contract was signed in November 2008 by the then chief minister Sir Peter Caruana.”
Before the tunnel was opened, Winston Churchill Avenue was the only road linking Gibraltar to neighbouring Spain. The Gibraltar Airport runway was built across it in 1941, and incorporated vehicular and pedestrian routes to and from the frontier. In recent years, the road was closed more than 15 times a day to allow flights to take-off and land.
“The new tunnel, for the first time since 1941, enables the uninterrupted flow of traffic from one side of the runway to the other and will significantly improve traffic flow throughout Gibraltar. The road from the new roundabout at Devil’s Tower Road to the East Gate roundabout is approximately 1.2 kilometres in length, including approximately 350 metres of covered tunnel. The speed limit within the tunnel may vary from 20-50 kph according to traffic flow, and will always be clearly signposted.
“A frontier queue will not be allowed to accumulate within the tunnel. If vehicular traffic on the frontier/airport side reaches the exit of the tunnel, the entrance on the Devil’s Tower Road side will close temporarily to allow this to clear. This is a safety feature to prevent stationary traffic inside the tunnel. Vehicles will then be batched through the tunnel as the frontier traffic clears. Plans are in place to allow for continuous, uninterrupted access to the air terminal, Eroski, Four Corners and Western Beach in this scenario.
“The tunnel control room constantly monitors the traffic in the tunnel and the pedestrian/cycling subway, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Cameras monitored by the tunnel control room will automatically detect any vehicle that slows down suddenly or stops within the tunnel. In case of any emergency the tunnel control operators will assume control of the safety support systems in the tunnel and direct and organise tunnel users to safe areas. They will also be responsible for alerting the emergency services.”
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