Newark: a pointless road scheme

A map showing an improved dual carriageway going south-west to north-east across an unchanged dual carriageway running south-east to north-west outside Newark on Trent, with an inadequate junction connecting them.
Part of the scheme to improve the A46 at the junction with the A1. (From the consultation brochure PDF.)

On Thursday the Guardian reported that the government had ignored official advice to review a massive road-building programme on environmental grounds; taking such advice has been a legal requirement since 2014. This revelation forms part of a legal challenge to the set of projects by the Transport Action Network which claims that “the significant subsequent changes in climate policy and scientific understanding of pollution means it needs review”, both in terms of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also of the newly identified problem of particulate pollution from tyres, which remains an issue even if much road transport moves to electric engines. The schemes include widenings of the A303 in Somerset and Wiltshire, including the Stonehenge tunnel, an improvement to the A63 in Hull and an upgrade to the A46 Newark by-pass in Nottinghamshire.

It’s this last scheme which suggests that the new roadbuilding programme is a worrying sign of a return to the days of “motorway madness” in the 1990s under the previous Tory government. The consultation brochure (PDF) describes the scheme as part of “a commitment … to improve the A46 ‘Trans- Midlands Trade Corridor’ between the M5 and the Humber Ports, to create a continuous dual carriageway from Lincoln to Warwick”. This points to future plans to upgrade the rest of the ‘corridor’ which presently includes 39 miles of single carriageway between the Lincoln by-pass and the M180 outside Scunthorpe. The scheme involves either a flyover or throughpass for the A46 across the junction with the A616 and A617 to the west of the town as well as a flyover over the A1 that avoids the existing junction. A consultation was carried out last year which proposed two fairly similar schemes, both of which feature the flyover over the A1 but no serious improvement to the rest of the junction. This would improve access from the A46 which comes up from Coventry and Leicester (with a road in from Nottingham also) and continues north-east towards Lincoln; anyone travelling this way would have their journey times reduced by the flyover. For whatever reason, the option that includes a flyover for the A46/A616 junction also includes two parallel dual carriageways north-east of the junction with the A1, with the traffic from the junction meeting the A46 at an upgraded roundabout further up.

However, the junction with the A1 would be unchanged: there are two signalised roundabouts either side of the A1 with some short, tight slip roads and very insufficient turn-off lanes which frequently cause traffic to back up onto that road, which has a 70mph speed limit for cars, causing delays and increasing danger for anyone travelling along the A1 or switching to the A46. The A46 and A1 form an important secondary route for people travelling from the Midlands to the north-east and Yorkshire particularly at times when the M1 is congested (or closed because of works or accidents) and this junction is a major weak link. Anyone travelling from London to Hull via the Humber Bridge (the most direct route, despite the toll) might also come up the A1 and then take the A46 and A15 via Lincoln; the junction is also the end of the A17, a fast route to northern East Anglia and south Lincolnshire. So traffic from Leicester to Lincoln is only one of many flows of traffic across this junction, yet it’s the only one that will see any change, and even there, there will still be two roundabouts between the improved bypass and the upgraded A46 down to Leicester. Perhaps this will cause the least disruption while the works are taking place, but has the least long-term benefit even if improving traffic flow is the only important thing; there is obvious room for direct slip roads between the A46 from the west and the A1 from the north.

It just looks like a grandiose scheme to boost the economy with some big infrastructure projects while filling the pockets of a few big construction firms, some of them no doubt with links to the Tory party. It will be a gift from the taxpayer to these companies that will keep on giving for decades to come. Now that the previous fad for converting motorways to “smart motorways” with four lanes with no hard shoulder has been quite rightly discredited, the only way they can increase road capacity is to actually build new roads again. This particular scheme will be of limited benefit and only makes sense in the context of future major upgrades to other main roads in the region; it resembles previous A-road upgrades in the east of England which left important work undone, to be redone at further expense and disruption later. This should be done properly, or not at all.

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