Upgrade for major Devon to London route
A crucial section of the A303 in Somerset will finally become a dual carriageway after the government gave the go-ahead to a £250 million upgrade.
Highways England put forward proposals in 2019 to dual the single-carriageway stretch of the A303 between the Podimore roundabout near Ilchester and the Sparkford roundabout, north of Yeovil, where the road meets the A359.
A decision on the plans has been repeatedly delayed, first by the 2019 general election, then by the coronavirus pandemic and most recently by concerns about “bird strike” impacting on the nearby RNAS Yeovilton. But the Department for Transport has finally given the scheme the green light, with construction expected to be completed by 2024.
The scheme will see a stretch of around three miles dualled between the two roundabouts, with the new carriageway largely following the footprint of the existing road.
On an average day, the road carries 23,500 vehicles, but numbers increase significantly in the summer, particularly at weekends, with many using it as a route to the Glastonbury Festival from London and the south east.
The decision follows the government’s approval of a separate scheme in November 2020 to dual the A303 near Stonehenge in Wiltshire, including the creation of a new tunnel through the World Heritage Site.
Nick Harris, acting chief executive of Highways England, said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s decision to upgrade the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester. Along with the A303 Stonehenge tunnel project, it is part of the biggest investment in our road network for a generation.
“This scheme will support economic growth and facilitate a growth in jobs and housing by creating a free-flowing and reliable connection between the south east and south west. It will also tackle a long-standing bottleneck, reduce journey times to the south-west and improve traffic flows in that area at peak times and during peak seasons.”
Highways England has estimated that the Somerset scheme will cost between £100M and £250M to complete, with construction expected to begin by the end of 2021 and lasting until 2024. The new road will also include new and replacement slip roads, junctions and road bridges to replace existing junctions and direct access roads.
Lee Nathan, south west regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Upgrading the single carriageway sections of this important route is key to supporting the south west economy, particularly as the only alternative route via the M4 and M5 into the south west is already heavily congested.
“We believe that more investment should be directed to improving key links on the A-road network across the UK as a way of supporting our local regional economies. As a result, we are wholeheartedly in support of this new scheme.”
Highways England is also seeking to progress a scheme to dual the A358 between the Southfields roundabout in Ilminster and Junction 25 of the M5 in Taunton.
Preliminary design work for this scheme is currently being undertaken, with a further round of public consultation due to be announced later in the year.