Big A303 and A358 dualling projects still ‘on track’
Plans to dual two key routes through the Westcountry remain on course despite reports in the national press they may be scrapped.
Highways England, which is responsible for England’s motorways and major A-roads, has put forward schemes for a new tunnel for the A303 at Stonehenge, the dualling of the A303 between Podimore and Sparkford, and the dualling of the A358 between Taunton and Ilminster.
National press reports on April 24 indicated that 11 schemes currently being considered by the body could be paused “indefinitely”, following concerns they would not provide value for money.
But the agency has since confirmed these schemes will still go ahead – with a decision on the A358 route still expected before the summer.
These three projects were included within the government’s road investment strategy, which was published in late-2014 and includes a total of 112 improvement schemes to roads across England.
The strategy commits to improving Junction 23 of the M5 at Bridgwater and the M49 Avonmouth junction near Bristol, as well as the dualling of the A303 and the A358.
Prime Minister Theresa May said her government was “committed to creating a dual carriageway on the A303 from the M3 to the M5” when Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton raised the issue in the House of Commons in January 2017.
In an interview with The Times , published on April 24, chief executive Jim O’Sullivan confirmed 11 of the 112 schemes could be delayed for up to five years.
He said: “We revisited 11 and the return on investment just wasn’t good enough. We have paused those, perhaps for a time when the traffic demand will make them more viable.”
Highways England has confirmed that it still intends to announce its preferred route for the A358 dualling in late-spring.
A spokesperson said: “We’re on track to deliver the road investment programme agreed with the government.
“We regularly review our plans to ensure they are achieving value for money for the taxpayer and so motorists using motorways and major roads face the fewest possible delays.
“Meanwhile the upgrades we’re delivering are helping to keep drivers and businesses moving, and boosting the country’s economy.”
Public hearings for the Stonehenge tunnel scheme – which could begin construction in 2021 – are scheduled to take place towards the end of May.
A third scheme, involving the A303 between Podimore and Sparkford, is currently at the examination stage, with further hearings expected to take place in mid-May.
A final decision on this scheme by transport secretary Chris Grayling MP is due by the end of 2019.