Campaigners calling into doubt benefits of town's relief road

A ROW has broken out over a major relief road in Yorkshire with campaigners claiming traffic problems have simply moved a few miles away.

The A650 Bingley relief road near Bradford was completed in December 2003 and the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) claims that new research has revealed the forecasts of economic and congestion benefits were inaccurate.

The lobby group has called for a halt to major new road projects claiming the data being used cannot now be trusted.

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The Highways Agency rejected the claims: It admitted the financial benefits were lower than forecast but said the road had provided value for money and had eased significant congestion problems in Bingley.

Richard George, roads and climate campaigner for the CBT, said: "These reports should set off alarm bells for anyone contemplating major road building and for taxpayers who will eventually have to pay for them.

"In difficult economic times, taxpayers must know that their money is being well spent.

"Instead, they're being fobbed off with half-baked calculations which are little better than guesswork.

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"The Government cannot justify spending over 1bn a year on road projects which their own reports show aren't solving people's transport problems."

The A650, which cost nearly 50m, is one of four road projects that the CBT has looked into.

A Post Opening Project Evaluation (POPE) report is written by the Highways Agency in the years after a road is completed to analyse whether or not the predictions and forecasts were correct.

The CBT said that the Bingley report revealed the road was a particularly poor example of forecasting, claiming the case for the scheme was "significantly overstated" due to over-estimating of the level of traffic and congestion growth.

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A spokesman also said there was "poor correlation" between the forecast and actual traffic levels, attributed to basic modelling flaws.

The report found that traffic has increased north of the Bingley relief road by 70 per cent, and south of the road by 27 per cent.

He said: "The A650 Bingley relief road has just moved traffic elsewhere, traffic has increased significantly since the scheme opened, both north and south of the road.

"Although traffic increased significantly as a result of the scheme, the traffic forecasts substantially over-estimated the volume of traffic on the bypass."

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A spokeswoman for the Highways Agency defended the road and cited a number of benefits.

She said the old A650 at Main Street in Bingley is now carrying on average 47 per cent less traffic than before the road opened.

The removal of much of the traffic from the old A650 through the centre of Bingley town has also allowed the local authority to implement traffic calming measures to improve conditions.

She added that 75 per cent of responses from the residents' survey said congestion on the old A650 was improved, 62 per cent felt the road achieved its objective to remove through traffic from Bingley centre and it was still considered value for money even though the economic benefit was less than expected.