Historically the A34 has experienced many challenges, struggling to meet increased demand and suffering with an increasing number of fatalities on this busy and major route. As the route continues to struggle, could the A34, which is already over capacity, be hindering growth?
The southern A34 route runs 45 miles from Bicester to Winchester and provides connections to the M40 at its northern end and the M3 at its southern end, acting as a major corridor in the South Region. Many commentators have deemed the road unfit for its modern-day expectations and several campaigns have been launched to improve its safety. After years of campaigning, alongside pressure from political figures, Highways England have launched several consultations on possible safety improvements for the A34, most recently consulting on improvements for Junction 9 of the M3 in January and February this year. In July 2018, the preferred ‘option14’ allows free-flowing road links between the M3 and A34, both northbound and southbound, alleviating the need to reach the roundabout on junction 9. This improvement would relieve congestion at the southernmost end of the A34, in particular the frequently congested Winnall Roundabout, improving the safety and efficiency of these two major roads.
Highways England indicate that this project will require development consent, resulting in it becoming a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. The process for getting development consent is now well established and there is a high success rate for projects that are well prepared and accepted by the Secretary of State as suitable to be examined by The Planning Inspectorate, however, getting to that point requires a lot of up front work. Highways England will need to prepare a high-quality application, with clear evidence that considers the impacts (positive and negative) and with transparent engagement with statutory consultees, land owners and local communities, ensuring the project is in line with the National Policy Statement on National Networks.
The improvements to Junction 9 lie within the administrative boundary of Winchester City Council and evidence to date demonstrates limited support of the improvements from the council. Financial contributions for the major infrastructure project could be secured through new developments in the area surrounding the A34 corridor, with such new developments potentially contributing to the needs of Winchester whilst helping to facilitate the new junction.
If this project is to be delivered, Highways England will have to engage upfront, particularly on any tricky issues, such as the impact on the South Downs National Park, something that is likely to be a focus for the Examining Inspector or Panel of Inspectors, should the application be accepted for examination. The recent decision to grant consent for the Silvertown Tunnel in London also demonstrates how carefully air quality impacts are being considered by the Secretary of State considering recent challenges to the Government on its Air Quality plan in the European Courts. Will the benefits of the improvements to Junction 9 of the M3 outweigh the impacts?
In addition to air quality, another element to consider is the number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) that use the A34 and the fact that one in five road traffic accidents on the A34 involves a (HGV) and plans for the new port in Southampton would result in an increase in the number of HGV movements on the A34. The major route is already over capacity and therefore in its current state would be unlikely to be able to cope with more traffic. Is there a solution that could enable the A34 to accommodate more HGV movements?
It is evident that the A34 is struggling to cope with the current volume of traffic and this is potentially hindering both residential and economic growth in the area. Well-thought out and robust improvements to the key corridor are vital to improve its safety and efficiency whilst enabling growth in the surrounding area. Could the improvements at Junction 9 be a start to a congestion-free and safer A34?
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