THE ups and downs of the listed Tyne pedestrian and cyclists tunnels are to be tackled.
The tunnels are now nearly 60 years old, and two of its four escalators have been out of action for several months.
A third one broke down recently, leaving only the up escalator on the Jarrow side of the river in operation.
And of the two lifts, only the north side is in working condition.
A consultation exercise was carried out last year seeking public input into how more walkers and cyclists can be encouraged to use what, for many, is a forgotten cross-river link.
In their 1950s heyday, the tunnels were used by 20,000 people a day – many of them shipyard and factory workers Now work has started on the repair of the south side lift, which is 25 years old.
Corrosion of cast iron in the lift shaft will be treated and the lift motor, cables and car will be replaced.
The lift should be back in operation by October-November, and the process will be repeated on the north side, with a return to use early next year.
The lift repairs are expected to cost around £500,000.
Paul Fenwick, project director for the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, which is responsible for the major maintenance and capital expenditure of the tunnels, said: “The authority is making every effort to improve the reliability of equipment in the tunnels.
“However, the tunnels are nearly 60 years old, are Grade II Listed and much of the equipment has now exceeded its designed lifespan.
“This has made the procurement of works to deal with lifts and escalators complicated and time consuming. Three of the four escalators are currently out of order so unfortunately our customers are currently receiving a level of service which we acknowledge is unsatisfactory.”
Meanwhile the authority is considering running shuttle bus service for cyclists from the pedestrian cycling tunnels through the vehicle tunnel.
THE recession is believed to be responsible for a drop over the last two years in the volume of traffic using the vehicle tunnel.
Last year there was a 1.5% reduction and Mr Fenwick said that in 2008 traffic flows fell by 5% on roads in Tyne and Wear.
It is thought that job losses and general belt-tightening meant fewer work and leisure trips.
Mr Fenwick said that monitoring had indicated that the building works associated with the construction of the new vehicle tunnel was not a factor in the fall in tunnel traffic.
In 2009-10, the tunnel was used by 11.6 million vehicles, which is roughly double the level in 1974.
The 11.6 million users paid £13.8m in tolls which is used to fund the running costs of the tunnel and the development of the new crossing.
On January 1 2012, when the new tunnel has been completed, tolls will rise by 20p to £1.40 for cars and to £2 for heavy goods vehicles.