THE Droitwich Canals Restoration Partnership has successfully excavated through the newly constructed tunnel under the A449.

The work, which is a key milestone in the restoration project, will reconnect the historic Droitwich Barge Canal, one of the earliest canals built by the great canal engineer James Brindley.

The project also includes the restoration of 12 locks, the construction of 4 new locks, 1km of new canal, 500 metres of which is a canalised river and the creation of an offline reed bed.

Over the past few months the A449 Worcester to Kidderminster road has seen massive construction work taking place underneath the carriageway.

Sheet piling has been installed to form the abutment supports to the 75 metre long tunnel passing beneath the road along with a newly constructed towpath.

Finishing works to the tunnel will continue for some weeks, as will some traffic management on the A449. The single carriageway canal bridge which was originally constructed over the Barge Canal at the location was filled in during the Second World War by Italian prisoners of war, who were tasked with strengthening the bridge ready for the masses of troops, who were transporting tanks to the south coast for the D-Day landings.

The A449 dual carriageway road, of the 1960s, was constructed over the top of the original bridge which is still located to the side of the newly constructed tunnel, part of one wing wall being demolished for driving of the new sheet piles James Brindley considered the Droitwich Barge Canal, and particularly its junction with the River Severn, to be one of his proudest achievements. Together with the Junction Canal, it brought prosperity to the area through the transportation of salt, which in the 18th and 19th centuries, before the advent of fridges, was vital for preserving food.

The salt workers of Droitwich extracted salt from great bubbling brine pans hung over huge coal fires and the resulting suffocating air hanging over Droitwich was considered to be denser than that seen over the nearby Black Country. Officially closed in 1939, the last working barge plied the canal carrying bricks over ten years earlier.

The restored Droitwich Canals will generate over 320,000 new visits within five years and an additional spend of £2.75m per year in the local economy.

The restoration will help put the spa town of Droitwich on the tourist map and will complete a 21 mile canal loop providing extended opportunities for holiday and leisure boating in and around the West Midlands.

British Waterways, project manager, Jason Leach said: “The creation of this tunnel is a significant milestone for the restoration project and its completion has been long awaited by many. The newly constructed tunnel and towpath will be soon be open for the public to explore and a major link in the 21 mile canal and river loop.”