THE Government will be asked to take the Mersey tunnels into the national road network to free the region from the burden of paying tolls.
The tunnel committee of transport authority Merseytravel voted to make the request to ministers.
It came as the Labour-run authority is considering whether to increase tolls by 10p (from £1.50) for cars from April – a move which would generate an additional £2.6m for the authority.
Previous attempts to persuade the Government to take over the tunnels have failed and the latest bid is also likely to fail.
There is still £58m of debt outstanding on the tunnels and the business case for the planned £600m second bridge across the Mersey between Runcorn and Widnes is predicated on charging similar tolls to the tunnel.
The Department for Transport said it had not yet received the request and would consider it in due course.
The latest development followed the revelation that half the annual £37m collected in Mersey tunnel tolls is diverted away from their staffing and maintenance.
Figures obtained from Merseytravel showed more than a quarter of tolls – around £10m annually – is still being used to pay off historic debts on the tunnels, which stood at more than £58m.
Another 15% of tolls, which equated to £5.6m last year, is used to subsidise other public transport services across Merseyside.
At the current rate, the debt on the tunnels is due to be virtually paid off by 2026.
Former Wirral Council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes, who sits on Merseytravel’s tunnel committee, put forward the idea of asking the Government to take over the tunnels. He said: “My view has always been ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.”
He admitted the Government actually appeared to moving towards a position of introducing more tolled roads, rather than removing fees, but that it was worth asking the question.
The committee has asked officials to see if they can get an answer by February 7, when the full authority will meet.
Next month’s report will also include a recommendation on whether to increase tunnel tolls from April.