HALTON residents could enjoy free travel across the Mersey even if tolls are levied to pay for the proposed new Runcorn-Widnes bridge, it has been revealed.
Council leader Tony McDermott told the Weekly News that his main aim was to persuade the Government to fund the estimated £250m cost of the project.
But if the Government refuses to stump up the full cost, tolls will have to be considered.
However, Cllr McDermott doesn't believe locals should have to pay to cross the Mersey.
He said: 'More than 60% of traffic on the bridge is from outside the borough. One thing that could be considered is a scheme whereby people resident in the borough can use the bridge free of charge.
'It is Halton that suffers from lorries using the bridge and benefiting from it, so perhaps people from outside should bear the burden of the cost.
'We cannot avoid the financial issue we have to be realistic, the money will have to come from somewhere.
'But it is an emotive issue for people living in Halton who have been used to using the existing bridge for nothing. If a thousand people were surveyed, they would all say that they didn't want to pay tolls, but at the same time a clear case has been made for the need for the bridge and it will have to be paid for somehow.
'Another method which could be considered would be a discount for cars being driven by Halton residents or people who work in the borough.
'But our main priority during the next three years is to put pressure on central government to pay for the second bridge. The level of congestion the existing bridge is so high it is acting as a barrier to development in the area, so our case is strong.'
The £150m budget for building the second crossing is nearly equivalent to the Government's entire annual transport budget for the North West.
Cllr McDermott added: 'People are concentrating on this business of the possibility of tolls being charged and we are not going to duck out of it.
'However, we are engaging on this mammoth project with the idea that the Government will provide, at least, the bulk of the funding.
'A new bridge would open up both banks of the Mersey for further development and would have a beneficial spin-off for the entire North West region.
'In the event, we could be forced into the situation of having to raise tolls but that is something we will tackle when the time comes.'