Public support called on for expansion of A417 after fatal accidents

Gazette Series: Traffic on the A417 could be a thing of the past if plans to make it into a dual carriageway are approved Traffic on the A417 could be a thing of the past if plans to make it into a dual carriageway are approved

A SCHEME to improve the quality of life for people in the district and provide a massive boost to the Gloucestershire economy needs the backing of everyone in the Cotswolds if it is to at last get off the ground.

The project is to fill in the “Missing Link”, the road between the Cotswolds and the M5, on the A417, the only section of single lane carriageway between Dover and Carlisle and a thorn in the side of many thousands of motorists for the more than 20 years.

A £250million scheme, currently known as the “Brown Route”, was unveiled this week after years of planning and consultation with transportation experts, neighbouring county councils, business communities and residents throughout Gloucestershire and beyond.

The Missing Link is the section of the A417 from the Cowley roundabout just south of Nettleton Bottom to Brockworth, at the bottom of Crickley Hill, including the notorious Birdlip junction and the Air Balloon pub roundabout.

It is used by motorists travelling between the M4 at Swindon and the M5 at junction 11a between Gloucester and Cheltenham, a route over 40 miles shorter than driving the other two sides of the triangle to the M4/M5 interchange at Almondsbury.

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In the 1990s the A419/417 from Swindon to the M5 was improved, the entire route becoming a dual carriageway including the Cirencester and Blunsdon bypasses, with the exception of the Missing Link which remained a single carriageway.

With 34,000 vehicles using the route every day, not only do tailbacks of several miles build up at peak times at the bottleneck but frustrated motorists take risks and the accident rate on this stretch of road is twice that of the entire dual carriageway section, with a serious accident every two weeks and 11 fatalities since 1998 – three being in the last six weeks.

The number of accidents and breakdowns of heavy goods vehicles as a result of the steep incline of Crickley Hill leads to frequent but unpredictable delays that render this main artery through Gloucestershire completely unreliable.

This has not only restricted commercial investment in Gloucestershire but also in the counties beyond, including Hereford and Worcestershire.

Councils, MPs and business groups in the county have long campaigned to have the Missing Link filled in with a dual carriageway but until now have not been able to come up with a scheme that was affordable and environmentally-acceptable.

Now Gloucestershire County Council needs the support of the public to make it a reality.

To be selected for funding, the scheme needs to be of regional significance, produce quantifiable economic growth and have the overwhelming support of the communities it serves.

GCC is confident it can convince the government of the first two of these criteria and is now looking to the people of the county to show their support.

In January, a campaign will be launched to explain the scheme in more detail to people, together with a number of ways in which residents can register their approval.

Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said while the plan was controversial because of the amount of land it took up, it was the only feasible cost-effective solution.

“Trying to achieve a government priority for a national scheme to improve the missing link will not only reduce accidents and fatalities, but it will also eliminate the daily congestion, which is getting worse and worse. In turn, this will produce good economic growth for the county and the country.”

Other schemes have been investigated in the past to solve the problem but none has been deemed feasible.

Traffic lights in the vicinity of the Air Balloon Roundabout were suggested at one stage but ruled out on the grounds that it would not ease congestion.

It was also felt it would put too much strain on the braking systems of HGVs, resulting in more accidents and even more brake fires.

A tunnel was also proposed, but with a predicted price tag of £1bn, deemed too expensive to build and maintain.

Stroud MP Neil Carmichael said it was a “seriously dangerous” bottleneck on a very important route through Gloucestershire.

He said: “We have got to improve it. Some serious money needs to be found to pay for quite a complicated project.”

Gloucestershire councillor Stephen Lydon (Lab, Dursley) said he welcomed the move but hoped the money going towards it would not be to the detriment of other schemes in the area.

“The problem we have got is the whole budget in keeping the road system up to speed has been cut tremendously, so what we are going to end up with is crisis management rather than planned management.”

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