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How do you solve a problem like the A40?
THE A40 has long been the scourge of commuters who live in West Oxfordshire and work in Oxford.
Even though action plans have been suggested by successive Oxfordshire County Council administrations, no major changes have been made in at least four decades.
And with business experts admitting no action could drive away fed-up businesses, the need for action has never been greater.
The situation may change soon though, as transport bosses contemplate the cumulative effect of thousands of proposed new homes in West Oxfordshire, coupled with the Northern Gateway scheme in Oxford and a new development in Barton.
In Carterton alone, proposals for almost 1,700 homes are in the planning stages and the Northern Gateway is expected to create 3,000 jobs right next to the Peartree Roundabout in Oxford.
But that economic gain could be threatened if road infrastructure, such as the A40, is not upgraded at the same time.
In its latest transport strategy report, the county council notes: “Congestion on the A40 to the east of [Witney] causes very lengthy delays for journeys to and from Oxford at peak times.
“This impacts on the ability of local businesses to achieve growth.”
Oxfordshire Town Chamber Network chairman Keith Slater said congestion on the A40 had long been seen as a threat to business.
He said: “Solving the problem of traffic on the road is vital for Oxfordshire going forward, but the area around Oxford has never been seen as a priority by successive governments.
“The main concern for businesses is the time it adds to journeys going in and out of the city.
“If you travel at 7am you can do the journey in 25 minutes, but at 8am it can take more than an hour.
“That unpredictability, when it comes to managing commercial vehicles especially, is bad for business. The snarl-ups you get on the A40 are a prime example of that and they can make life very difficult.
“With this sort of thing it is hard to put a figure on it because there are so many factors, but it definitely has knock-on effects.”
For Oxfordshire County Council transport boss David Nimmo Smith, the A40 also remains a key issue.
He said: “We have got to improve the A40 to help deal with all the new developments and to encourage all these new businesses we want to attract to come to Oxfordshire.
“What we don’t want is people coming here and finding it hard to get around, because then they won’t want to stay.
“There are various ways of looking at it and some plans have been around since the ’70s and ’80s.
“At one point they wanted to make it a dual carriageway all the way into Oxford. That is an option, but what do you do when you get to Wolvercote?”
As well as dual carriageway, the county council has also considered creating dedicated bus lanes along the crammed route and has also reiterated its interest in creating park and ride sites in Eynsham for Oxford workers.
Mr Nimmo Smith said: “The main problem with all of these ideas is where you get the funding. So our priorities are the traffic bottlenecks as you come into Oxford, because they cause the greatest problems.
“At the moment, we think the scheme that will be financed by the Northern Gateway is the one we can unlock first.”
The Northern Gateway is the science and business park Oxford City Council is planning to create on the site between Wolvercote and the A34. It will also include about 200 homes.
But both the county council and the city council have agreed it cannot go ahead without transport improvements in the area because of the congestion on the A40 and Wolvercote roundabout.
The county council’s solution to the problem is a new link road between the A40 and the A44 and changes to the Wolvercote and Cutteslowe roundabouts. It will be paid for by the City Deal, signed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in February.
City council head of development Colin Cook said: “We are trying to work with the county council to ease the stress that the Gateway will cause, by introducing a new traffic regime.
- Cllr Colin Cook overlooking the triangle of land bounded by the A40, A34 and A44, to the west of Wolvercote roundabout, which is earmarked to become the city's Northern Gateway.
“That is partly providing creating better access, but it also involves getting people to use different forms of travel, such as buses and bicycles.
“The A40 into Oxford can certainly be a very annoying place to be stuck, but we hope future schemes will mitigate the impact of developments.“ The success of the Northern Gateway-financed link road and improvements to the roundabouts could be a key test for whether more work is carried out, said Mr Nimmo Smith.
He added: “The [link road and roundabouts] scheme is expected to ease congestion and it is the one we can accomplish the quickest. If afterwards we need to look at other actions then we’ll do that, but first we will see how well it helps the problem.”
An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said the scheme was currently estimated to cost a combined £16m, but that it was subject to change.
When asked which options were being considered for the sections of the A40 further west, the spokesman refused to elaborate beyond the new link road and claimed the issues were addressed in council leader Ian Hudspeth’s Connecting Oxfordshire presentation in March.
The spokesman said: “This is a vision, not a list of costed schemes.”
That may not sound promising to the frustrated motorists who every day have to sit in queues along the road, but a vision is at least a sign of ambition.
COPING WITH PLANNED DEVELOPMENTS
- CARTERTON – A development of 250 homes to the north of the town has already been approved, with 700 to the east submitted for planning approval and 1,000 more also in consultation stages in the west. New slip roads are to be added to the A40 from the B4477, which is also to become an A-road.
- WITNEY – The county council has unveiled a range of measures to help cope with new homes in Witney, particularly 1,000 being built in West Witney, off Downs Road. The strategy, comprising four stages, starts with a new £2.5m traffic signal-controlled junction between Ducklington Lane and Station Lane and new junctions on the A40 at Downs Road and Shores Green.
- WOLVERCOTE – The Northern Gateway scheme, part of the City Deal signed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, is expected to create an estimated 3,000 jobs and include 200 new homes.
- BARTON – The proposed 885-home Barton Park housing estate is currently planned via a bridge over the A40 into Northway that would cut through green space at Foxwell Drive.
A COMMUTER'S SORRY TALE OF THE A40
FATHER-of-two Mick Morris, chief executive of Wheatley-based motion capture firm Audiomotion, became so fed up with sitting in A40 tail-back queues that he stopped using the main road altogether.
The 40-year-old said: “I used to drive from Witney to Botley, where our offices were based, for nearly 10 years.
“It was utterly horrible then, a complete shambles, and it has still not improved.
“I now take the rat runs home through Woodstock and Bladon and other small villages, just to avoid sitting in the traffic every evening.
- Mick Morris
“There are lots of other people I know who use routes from Oxford via places like South Leigh as well, just so they don’t have to be stationary on the A40.
“The toll bridge, when you go via Farmoor, is another particularly bad place along the route, I don’t even want to think about what the air quality there must be like.
“It’s hard to put a number on how it affects businesses, but I know from experience that when we were based in Botley, clients who had spent a long time in traffic would arrive stressed and annoyed.
“And that can’t be good for business when you are having to work with them in performances for a week.”
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