THE A27 is probably the most important road in Sussex, linking most of the major towns.

But it varies from being like a motorway in some sections to a country lane in others. Until about 50 years ago, it went straight through some of the most historic places in the county. Motorists had to pick their way through a maze of side streets to get past Chichester.

In Lewes they negotiated a high street so narrow that two large vehicles could not pass each other there.

As for Arundel, traffic went right up to the walls of the castle, and ruined the town’s serenity. But the most extraordinary stretch was at Shoreham where drivers had to get past a level crossing before going on a creaking wooden bridge.

Looking at this historic bridge, now restricted to pedestrians, it is hard to imagine it carrying heavy traffic.

Bypasses were built within a few years to help ease congestion. They were successful in some ways but not in others. They tended to transfer traffic elsewhere and this usually wrecked charming countryside.

The bypasses at Lewes and Shoreham were particularly brutal and it is hard to think of an uglier bridge than the Adur flyover and the traffic still piles up at much the same places as before.

There are delays each day on the Chichester bypass while traffic is often at a crawl during the evening peak between Falmer and Lewes.

As for pretty little Arundel; its bypass proved to be inadequate with queues forming a long way each side of the town.

Now Highways England has proposed a number of possible routes for a new bypass but all of them would damage the Downs and ancient woodland.

In the past, government road planners have generally won the day on road improvements for the A27 in Sussex.

The most notable example case was that of the Brighton bypass which was never going to be defeated despite enormous opposition.

Even when it took away 200 acres of downland and wafted road noise deep into the countryside, it was approved. Those were the days when roads came first but things may be different now.

The South Downs have become a national park and the authority has already objected strongly to the Arundel proposals.

This is significant because a national park cannot simply be brushed aside in the way objectors were in the past. There are signs that local councils, which used to be strongly pro-road, are starting to change their minds.

Arundel will be a test case for other proposals on the A27. There are plans to modify the Chichester bypass, enabling through traffic to flow more freely. At Worthing, streams of traffic cause congestion in the north of the town. It is particularly bad near the Lyons Farm development which plainly should never have been allowed. The present route, close to many houses, is utterly unacceptable on environmental grounds.

Between Lewes and Polegate, there has been widening at Beddingham but the rest of the road is narrow and extremely dangerous. Any large scale work at those two locations would destroy much of the serenity of the South Downs and the national park authority is bound to object again.

In the end it will be down to the Government to decide what to do about the A27 in Sussex. It is the main east-west route and is well used. The only feasible alternatives are the A259 which is close to the coast and the A272 which is more inland.

The A259 passes through built up areas for most of its length and is not suitable for through traffic. As for the A272, it is little more than a lane in places and widening it would destroy precious countryside.

There are railways close to the coast in most of Sussex and they are well used but more needs to be done if they are to provide a suitable alternative to road transport.

The rail link near Polegate enabling trains to avoid Eastbourne would make journeys east of Brighton much faster.

Electrifying the line between Hastings and Ashford and making it dual track again should have been done years ago. Remarkably little freight uses the railways in Sussex even though it would take many lorries off the roads.

There are good bus services along the coast both east and west of Brighton but they are more spasmodic elsewhere. Few of them actually use the A27.

Cycle tracks are being provided in places but the A27 is not a nice road for cyclists who tend to ignore it if they can.

But if the Government approves the Arundel bypass, future generations are likely to regard this as a terrible error.