Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A 303 "Trunk Route"

News today that a small section of the A 303 will be closed for 3 months with a 50 mile diversion through surrounding villages and the small town of Gillingham.

What is interesting to me about this report is that no mention is made of the fact that precious little has been done to upgrade the A303 for perhaps 25 years. Originally designed as an alternative trunk road from London to the South West, the A303 passes through very few large towns, unlike its older, parallel route, the A30. So it was relatively easy to start to widen the A303 and construct some bypasses around potential bottlenecks. But amazingly, the job was never finished, even after the M3 was completed from Sunbury to Basingstoke. There are several well known but unavoidable two lane bottlenecks, including the entire Blackdown Hills in East Devon.

The last piece of completed road was the Honiton Bypass, infamous for the environmentalists who did everything they could to stall construction. Ironically this section is not named the A303 but the A30, as the two roads merge east of Honiton. The Blackdown Hills section of the A303 may never be upgraded as a link road has been improved from Ilminster to Taunton. This road, the A358 is still single lane so there is little actual improvement. Worse, the A358 feeds into the already congested M5 for all travelers heading to Devon and Cornwall.

According to Google Maps, a journey from Taunton to Kent takes the same time whether one uses the A303 or the M5/M4. The latter route is significantly longer but offers a better drive over three lane motorway standard roads. In the summertime both roads are likely to be congested with long tailbacks at accidents and roadworks, so you need to plan ahead!

But this spring it looks as though the M4/M5 route is a no-brainer.

Now that we are in a recession, it is reasonable to ask why nothing was done to improve the A303 when the coffers were full and the economy running at full steam. ironically the one major foreign currency earner we have when the Pound is weak is foreign tourism. A good road system (as in France) would make all the difference for the many small businesses in the Southwest that rely upon tourism.

My guess is that, using the recession as a feeble excuse, any improvements to the A303 will be postponed indefinitely.