THE number of vehicles using the Dartford Crossing has fallen to the lowest level since 1998.

New statistics from the Highways Agency show just over 49million vehicles travelled between Essex and Kent between April 2012 and March 2013. This was down 1.5million vehicles on the previous year and only 700,000 more than 15 years ago.

The figures also show the average number of vehicles to use the river crossing each day in 2012/13 was 134,732, compared with 138,760 in 2011/12. The day that saw the most traffic was August 31, 2012, when 165,930 made the trip.

Jackie Doyle-Price, MP for Thurrock, said the figures showed increasing the level of tolls had reduced demand for the crossing.

She said: “While I believe the tolls ought to be scrapped, the truth is that without them we would have gridlock on roads in Thurrock.

“The number of cars on our roads is not going to get any less and if Thurrock is going to really become the logistics hub of the UK, we need a road infrastructure which is fit for purpose.”

The tolls have been increased twice in the last five years, first in November 2008, when the price for cars rose from £1 to £1.50, and last October, when the cost for cars rose to £2.

Last month, roads minister Stephen Hammond confirmed barriers would be taken down at the toll booths next October to ease congestion.

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said on a recent visit to Thurrock a Lower Thames Crossing, aimed at reducing congestion at the Dartford Crossing, which would connect the M2 with the A13 and the M25 between junctions 29 and 30, “had attractions”.

Ms Doyle-Price said: “The battle still to win is to get free tolls for Thurrock residents and to reopen the consultation on the Lower Thames Crossing to look at options downstream.

“We need to build an infrastructure which is fit for this century and which will support jobs and growth in Thurrock.”

A Highways Agency spokesperson said: “While the amount of traffic using the Dartford Thurrock River Crossing has decreased slightly over the last few years, traffic flows are expected to increase by a fifth over the next 30 years, due to the anticipated development in the Thames Gateway region.

“Meanwhile, the crossing still operates over-capacity. It was designed to handle up to 135,000 vehicle movements each day, but it is not uncommon for 160,000 to occur.”