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Highway to hell: When will the A27 be sorted?
Stretching more than 200 miles from Devon to Kent, the trunk road through Sussex was supposed to be the superhighway saviour of the south coast.
Instead, for many motorists faced with the misery of daily delays on the A27, the busiest road in the county has become a highway to hell.
Hemmed in by the sea to the south and the Downs to the north, frustrated drivers trying to get across the county are faced with hours of tailbacks every week – even without the curse of accidents.
Notorious bottlenecks at Worthing, Arundel, Chichester and eastwards from Lewes often bring traffic grinding to a halt.
The delays are estimated to cost the Sussex economy £2 billion a year.
Mark Froud, the chief executive of Sussex Enterprise, the county’s chamber of commerce, said that represents a £29,000 loss for every business in the county.
Motoring campaigner Steve Percy said investment in the A27 was urgently needed as traffic volumes increase on the busy trunk road.
He said: “It’s tough for drivers on the A27 at the moment.
“People don’t want to be spending two hours on the road when it should take 20 minutes but that’s what’s happening. We need bypasses to be built because drivers deserve better.
“There are too many accidents, too many roadworks and far too many delays. This is supposed to be the main artery across Sussex but it’s simply not working. At the end of the day the public are having to pay the price for the dysfunctional A27.
“The authorities need to get their heads together and start investing in the road before it is too late.”
Campaigners have been battling for bypasses to be built around Arundel and Worthing for decades.
But a Highways Agency spokesman said the schemes were not on their “radar” – and that the earliest they would even be considered was 2020.
He said: "We currently have no plans for a bypass around Worthing or Arundel and there are no current plans to develop other major improvement schemes for the A27 at this time.”
Worthing has been battling for more than 30 years for a bypass. After four public inquiries the Government eventually decided its preferred option was to widen the existing road through the town before suddenly axing the scheme in 1996.
As a result traffic between Lancing and Swandean Hospital is frequently snarled up in both directions, hitting businesses as well as drivers.
Earlier this year a high powered delegation from Sussex visited the Department for Transport to lobby for the Worthing bypass to be put back on the drawing board.
The party, which included three MPs, council leaders and business chiefs, said it would improve the local economy and residents’ lives.
East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton said: “Improvements to the A27 are long overdue and are now having a material effect on business investment, as well as quality of life for local residents. None of these factors are new, but the situation has continued to deteriorate.
“Five wards in Worthing feature in national multiple poverty indices, yet similar deprived areas in the north of the country have received much more significant infrastructure spending.
“The delegation left the Commons in an upbeat mood having received a very sympathetic hearing from the Secretary of State. He suggested that a future scheme could be included in the next spending round, following improvements to the Chichester stretch of the A27 due after 2015.”
Yet there is no guarantee that the Chichester project will be given the go-ahead, as the scheme will be competing for funding alongside 13 others from across the UK.
In October 2010, during the government’s last spending review, 14 schemes were put forward for funding, none of which were Sussex-based.
Neither the Arundel or Worthing bypass proposals will be given the chance of a green light in the next spending review due in 2014/15 either.
Ian Fenwick, the chairman of Arundel chamber of commerce, said a bypass around the town was essential for businesses in the area to flourish.
He said: “The Highways Agency seems to be a law unto itself. It has have done so many studies which repeatedly show there is a real need for a bypass, but it doesn’t act on them.”
Last week traders in Arundel said traffic queues through A27 roadworks at the busy junction at Crossbush were turning customers away from visiting shops and cafés.
As soon as temporary traffic lights were installed in the roadworks on March 13, the road became gridlocked with drivers stuck in miles of jams.
Small businesses put up posters at the roadside to try to tempt motorists into the town.
Mr Fenwick said: “What’s the point of all the studies if the Highways Agency is not going to follow up on the findings?”
As well as problems with traffic volumes, road safety campaigners have called for major improvements to blackspots on the A27 where accidents have claimed many lives.
More than 80 people have died and almost 5,000 have been injured in more than 3,400 collisions on the road in Sussex over the last decade.
Last month a young boy was seriously injured when he was struck by a car outside his school in Lancing.
Further east, a stretch of road near Firle has been dubbed ‘Death Mile’ after a series of fatal accidents including a four car pile-up last December in which an elderly woman was killed.
Some users have called for the road to be widened from a single to a dual carriageway to improve safety and ease congestion.
But the Highways Agency insists widening the road would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
A spokesman said: “Dualling this section would be a major undertaking, involving major earthworks in an area bordering the South Downs National Park and it would not represent good value for taxpayers’ money.”
Transport minister Norman Baker, the MP for Lewes, agreed and suggested that the A27 in his area required “a few tweaks” but that major investment was not a realistic prospect.
He said: “There are two areas of the road in my constituency that still need improvement. The road east of Selmeston near Alciston needs work and there is also a need for a safer turning area at the crossroads at Wilmington. I have asked the Highways Agency for further improvements to be made in these areas.
“But there are no plans to build a dual carriageway on what is precious land. These plans have been rejected before and there are no plans to do that in the near future. It would cost around £100 million to do that.
“In any case it’s not fair to assume that the dual carriageway would ease congestion because that is not necessarily the case. For instance there are delays on the M25 and that’s a dual carriageway.”
Neil Hopkins, from Sussex Safer Roads Partnership, said: “We work closely with our partners in the Highways Agency to identify areas with a clear need for some intervention to increase safety and of course would welcome any further investment into this major pan-Sussex route to help increase the road's safety record.
“Investment has been made on this road in the past which has decreased collisions – an immediate example is the junction work and red road surface applied at Charleston Farm House.”
What do you think? Where on the A27 is work needed most urgently?
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