SECURING the £431million second Mersey crossing is absolutely vital for jobs, transport and investment, Halton Council’s leader stressed days before the public inquiry opens.

The worn-out existing bridge will become constantly traffic-clogged, he says, if the new Mersey Gateway is not built.

“The present bridge is nearly 50 years old and costs £3 million a year to maintain,” said Clr Tony McDermott, pictured.

“It is 10 times past its capacity and congestion and pollution will get worse.

“If the new bridge doesn’t go ahead, it will be an opportunity lost and won’t come back for another 50 years.”

He reassured residents the old bridge would never be tolled if the proposed crossing fails.

If approved, discount tolls on both bridges will be offered to locals.

“We have made a commitment to people who live in Halton and cross the bridge,” he added.

“If we get the discount scheme right for locals, the traffic that trundles through pays for the bridge.”

Directing traffic along Runcorn’s Central Expressway, he said, is the only viable option.

“We examined seven different routes,” he added.

“The Central Expressway was built to accommodate a large volume of traffic that never materialised because the new town didn’t develop as well and fast as expected.

“Even if the most extreme prediction of traffic uses it, it will still be less than 60 per cent of capacity.

“I welcome the public inquiry.

“All the issues will be meticulously scrutinised and argued over.

“Our vision is now within grasping distance.

“The Mersey Gateway will not only create jobs immediately with construction and inward investment but will transform the whole region.”