YORKSHIRE’S beleaguered motorway and trunk roads network is to get a £1.3bn shot in the arm as the Government bids to lay down the infrastructure that is vital to its Northern Powerhouse vision.
However there will be no gain without some extended pain for motorists, who face several years of disruptions during the overhaul.
A major five year package of new work announced for the region’s motorways will see several of the region’s notorious bottlenecks transformed into “free flowing” routes, it is hoped.
Work will start by 2019/20 on most of the schemes, but could stretch into the next Parliament. Work will be done to a target of having 97 per cent of the network operational at any one time. It currently runs at 98 per cent.
Speaking ahead of a major stakeholder conference in Leeds last night, Government decision-makers said the work was “absolutely key” to fulfilling the Chancellor’s vision for a Northern Powerhouse.
Vanessa Gilbert, Yorkshire and North East Divisional Director for Highways England, said: “Motorways and trunk roads form the backbone of the region’s economy and this huge investment will ensure they remain healthy for many years to come.
“Ultimately we are aiming to deliver a network that is less congested, more free flowing and more reliable for people.
“Obviously we have got to go through a bit of pain to get there, because we have got to make investment in the network to bring about those improvements. But our key focus is going to be on trying to minimise that disruptive impact on motorists.”
She said improving links between Leeds and other key cities like Manchester and Sheffield was a vital part of the package, adding that plans were being drawn up for a decade’s worth of potential work, but only the next five years are at a “more developed” stage.
Projects that will start by 2019/20 include:
>Improvements to the A63 Castle street in Hull, a key route into the city;
>M1 junction 45 improvements to improve access to the Aire valley development
>M62 Chain Bar - scheme to tackle the severe delays between Leeds and Bradford
>M621 junctions 1 to 7 improvements to reduce congestion
>M62 junctions 20 to 25 - upgrade to ‘smart’ motorway - extra lane and variable speed limits to keep traffic moving.
Also in the pipeline - for beyond 2020 - are improvements to Lofthouse Interchange, one of the region’s worst bottlenecks.
The work will complement projects already under way, including £368m of work at the A1 Leeming to Barton on a continuous motorway-standard route between London and Newcastle; £220m being spent on the M1 junctions 39 to 42 and 32 to 35A; and an £88.4m project on the A160/A180 road to improve access to one of the UK’s busiest ports.
Jeremy Bloom, Highways England’s Director of Major Projects in the North, said: “Drivers in Yorkshire and the Humber will see significant investment in major A roads and motorways across the region.
“It’s absolutely a key element of the Northern Powerhouse vision.
“Improving connectivity, improving accessibility and reducing congestion is key to the future prosperity of the whole of the North. We’ll be playing a very significant part in that Northern Powerhouse, and Leeds and Yorkshire are absolutely central to that.”
He added that “innovative ways of implementing the schemes” would include more of the construction work done off site.
“We are doing everything we can to minimise disruption, because we can’t have the whole network gridlocked,” he said.
“Our job is to try and keep the traffic moving as much as possible while building these schemes and we are trying to be more intelligent in how we plan work.
“We have five years committed funding, which helps us to be more efficient.
“It is important to say though that if we don’t do this work, congestion will get so bad that we will become gridlocked, so there isn’t really an alternative.”
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick Mcloughlin said: “Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity.
“That’s why, as part of our long-term economy plan, we are making the biggest investment in roads in a generation.
“The £1.3bn investment in Yorkshire and the Humber over the next five years will significantly improve journeys and help create jobs,
“Through schemes like these we are building the Northern Powerhouse and creating opportunities for hardworking people across the nation.”
Highways England is the new wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising maintaining and operating England’s’ motorways and major A-roads. It replaces the Highways Agency.
Previously funding was only granted year by year, whereas it will now be allocated in blocks of five years.