Andrew Vine: When will A64 be dualled? Spare us jam before fish and chips on crawl to coast

IT seemed like a good idea at the time. A sunny Saturday, so let's jump in the car and go to Scarborough for fish and chips on the harbourside.

Tailbacks on the A64 are all too familiar.

Two-and-a-half hours to cover less than 70 miles later, when we finally arrived sweaty, fed up and frazzled by stop-go and dead-stop traffic, it seemed rather less like a good idea, thanks to the A64.

The return journey was better, clocking in at about two hours back to Leeds. But honestly, four-and-a-half hours to drive 140 miles? Put another way, that’s an average speed of about 30mph, which is appalling for a major trunk road.

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My personal worst time for the journey in either direction stands at about three-and-a-half hours, one bank holiday when all the enjoyment was wrung from the day by traffic jams.

But then everyone has an A64 tale of woe. It might be the day when the kids, bored to tears by being stuck in the car started punching each other on the back seat, or the urgent detour in search of a toilet because the drive was taking twice as long as expected.

There will be a lot more of the same this weekend, when Easter marks the traditional start of the holiday season at the coast, and it feels like everybody in West and South Yorkshire is heading for the seaside.

I know the A64 as well as anyone, having driven it for 35 years. And over that period, I’ve seen it slowly throttled by the combination of ever-increasing traffic and underfunding by successive governments who have made sympathetic noises but done next to nothing to improve matters.

The day after passing my driving test in the high summer of 1982, I drove from Scarborough to Leeds to visit my parents. It took about an hour-and-a-quarter. If anybody had said that in 2017, it would take twice as long I’d have laughed at them.

The regular bottlenecks are seared on the psyche of anyone who decides to take a day trip to the seaside.

There is the Hopgrove roundabout, just east of York, where tailbacks stretch back for a couple of miles. Count on at least half an hour to get through.

Then just beyond the roundabout, expect another 20 minutes or so delay whilst the traffic feeds from two lanes into one.

Then on the journey back, there is the section where the Malton bypass narrows from two lanes to one. I spent nearly an hour there once.

They are the just the wearisomely predictable delays. Factor in the crawling or standing traffic on the last 15 miles or so of single-carriageway roads to Scarborough, and the journey can be one of the slowest and most frustrating in Yorkshire.

Inevitably, it puts people off going. I know people who think twice before taking a day trip to the coast because they simply don’t fancy spending more time in the car than they do actually enjoying being at the seaside.

The amount of income lost to the coastal economy as a result every year must be colossal, and in the long term would surely far outweigh the admittedly considerable cost of upgrading the A64.

The answer – widening the road so that it is dual carriageway along the entire route – has been obvious for decades.

The economic benefits of doing so are inarguable, especially now, when the Yorkshire coast is embarking on a new golden age of tourism.

The three towns most dependent on the A64 to bring traffic from the west – Scarborough, Whitby and Filey – have made great strides in opening up new markets and attracting visitors from far beyond their traditional catchment areas.

There was a time – around the period when I was passing my driving test – when the costal tourist industry faced an uncertain future because of the boom in cheap foreign package holidays that saw visitor numbers plummet.

Our seaside towns have bounced back from that – a major achievement that is too little recognised and applauded.

Yet because of the traffic congestion, they risk becoming victims of their own success, which is an unacceptable state of affairs when they have demonstrated an enterprising and imaginative spirit.

Piecemeal funding, such as the £250m promised three years ago for improvements east of York, just won’t do because it only moves the bottlenecks to somewhere else along the route without addressing the underlying problems.

They can only be solved by widening the A64 all the way to the coast. The work would, in a few years, pay for itself in jobs created – and income generated – for the Yorkshire economy.

The coast has worked immensely hard to help itself, and a Government commitment to make the A64 into the route it deserves would be recognition of that.

And for the rest of us, it would make a day out to the seaside the pleasure it ought to be, rather than an ordeal by traffic jam.