Motorists face days of delays after it was announced the road closure caused by the sinkhole on the A1 will continue until Wednesday.
The large sinkhole opened up on the A1 near the Lobley Interchange, northbound, at 11.45pm last night.
At least 3 metres deep and around 6.5 metres in diameter, the hole is believed to be related to old mine workings in the area.
Police were contacted by Highways England and the section of road between Coal House (junction 67) and Lobley Hill (junction 68) is now closed while repair work is carried out.
Nobody has been injured and officers are working closely with Highways England to assist with traffic management.
A diversion is in place at Junction 67, with drivers advised to follow the Solid Triangle when leaving at the junction to pick up the local route through the Team Valley trading estate and re-join the A1 at junction 68.
However, it is expected that this diversion will be extremely congested, therefore drivers are asked to avoid the area unless absolutely necessary.
Work has been ongoing overnight and throughout today to investigate the extent of the hole, and start the necessary repair to make the carriageway safe for traffic.
As that work continues extra measures are being put in place to minimise disruption; this includes introducing a contraflow on the southbound carriageway, lifting toll barriers for the Tyne Tunnel, and suspending roadworks on other key routes which are likely to be affected by traffic diverted from the A1.
However, as the road carries an average 90,000 vehicles a day, there will be disruption on the A1, on the diversion routes and in the area, so drivers are advised to leave extra time for their journeys.
Rob Beckitt, duty operations manager at Highways England said: “Safety is our top priority; we have to ensure the carriageway is totally safe before drivers use it.
“We and our contractors have been working hard with partners since the hole was discovered last night, and will continue to do so to make the carriageway safe as quickly as possible.
“In the meantime I urge all drivers in the area to check conditions before they set out and to leave plenty of extra time for their journeys. I would also like to thank drivers in advance for their patience as we carry out this complex task.”
The hole is on the northbound carriageway between Coal House (junction 67) and Lobley Hill (junction 68) on the western side of Newcastle and Gateshead. The northbound carriageway is completely closed between these junctions.
Highways England, which manages motorways and trunk roads, has organised a number of measures to reduce the impact of the emergency works as much as possible.
Contraflow will be installed on the southbound A1 (J67-68) overnight on Sunday so that by Monday morning there is a lane open in each direction.
There will be extra Highways England traffic officer patrols and recovery vehicles on standby to quickly remove any breakdowns in the contraflow
For local traffic a diversion will also remain in place through the Team Valley trading estate between junctions 67 and 68.
Longer distance traffic will be advised to use the A19 eastern route around Newcastle and Gateshead as an alternative to the A1 – and toll barriers for the Tyne Tunnel will be lifted to make this easier. Some planned closures for roadworks on the A19 have also been suspended.
A1 traffic heading further north towards Scotland will be advised to use the A66 from Scotch Corner across to the M6. Some roadworks on the A66 have also been suspended to help this.
“The A1 is a vital artery and we appreciate all the work Highways England is doing to keep traffic flowing as best as possible. We also have extra officers on duty, working hard to help manage the congestion and keep disruption to a minimal,” said Chief Superintendent Scott Hall of Northumbria Police.
“We thank motorists for their continued patience, and urge them to allow extra time for their journeys and re-think their travel plans to avoid the A1 if possible. We’re particularly appealing to commuters to plan alternative routes to work in the morning and for the evening rush hour as severe delays are expected until the road is safe enough to be re-opened.”
The large hole under the A1 was discovered by Highways England on Saturday night when a slight dip in the road surface became apparent.
Workers then cut around the dip to investigate and discovered a large void underneath the road surface. Thankfully it was in a coned off stretch due to roadworks elsewhere on the A1, so there was no traffic using the road at the time.
The hole, estimated at around 140 cubic metres, is being filled with a specialist concrete mixture before the road is resurfaced.
Following that, contractors working for Highways England will need to drill holes on Tuesday to pump more material underneath the repair to prevent a repeat collapse. If all goes to plan they are hoping the road will be safe to re-open on Wednesday morning.
Road users will be advised when the carriageway is reopening.
Highways England provides live traffic information via its website www.highways.gov.uk/traffic, local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile platforms, such as Android and iPhone apps.
The hole is not located in the current roadworks for the A1 Coal House to Metro Centre J67-71 scheme to widen the road to a three-lane dual carriageway, so these emergency roadworks are not expected to delay the completion of that major scheme.