THE announcement of the Orange route includes demolishing the existing A14 viaduct over the railway in Huntingdon and turning the rest of the present road between Spittals and Fen Drayton into local roads maintained by Cambridgeshire County Council. Also involved is a possible west-facing partial junction with the A1198 near Wood Green Animal Shelter and widening the A1 between Brampton Hut and Buckden to six lanes. East of Fen Drayton the A14 will be widened on its existing alignment, with additional parallel roads for local traffic. IAN MacKELLAR examines the background to last week's announcement THE choice of the Orange route, which has been broadly in the public domain since publication of the CHUMMS (Cambridge-Huntingdon Multi-Modal Study) report in 2001, comes as little surprise. The decision, originally expected some months ago, has been delayed by the Highways Agency's determination not to face further challenge over its consultation process. A bid for judicial review of the first public consultation has already delayed delivery of the new road by more than a year. Announcing the preferred route last week, roads Minister Tom Harris said: "The A14 is an important strategic route that connects the motorways of the Midlands and the north of England to the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich, and the M11 to the south. "The new road between Ellington and Fen Drayton, together with the widening of the existing A14 between Fen Drayton and Fen Ditton, will be a boost to the region's economy. With 65,000 to 85,000 vehicles using the A14 in Cambridgeshire each day, the scheme will improve journey time, reliability and safety on the A14." The next stage for the whole A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton project will be to appoint a contractor to develop the design of the scheme, followed by the publication of draft Highways Act Orders and an Environmental Statement, probably in two stages - first the unchallenged Fen Drayton-Fen Ditton widening, then this Huntingdon southern bypass. At those stages, there will be further opportunity for people to comment. Work could start in three years' time, possibly sooner on the eastern section, on what started life on All Fools' Day 2003 as a \u00A3490million scheme. Even as recently as a year ago, the Highways Agency believed it could build the road for that money. But by the time of a second consultation that started in December last year the cost had risen to \u00A3639million for the Orange route and even more for an alternative urged by protesters. That would have taken the alignment through the Buckden landfill site, adding millions of pounds to civil engineering costs. The original consultation in summer 2005 offered a choice between what is now the Orange route and a four-lane road on the same alignment, with the existing A14 retained as a trunk road. When the consultation was challenged by villagers in the Offords, the HA conceded that it had failed to abide by its own rules and disclose the routes it had assessed and decided were unbuildable for engineering or environmental reasons. Hence the second consultation, which was completed in March. The announcement was welcomed by Huntingdon's MP, Jonathan Djanogly, who said the Orange route attracted 62 per cent support during the consultation. "However, I do appreciate that not all my constituents will welcome this decision, so it will be important they get the opportunity to voice their concerns at a public inquiry," he added. "Our priority now should be to move this process forward as quickly as possible. I have written to the Highways Agency seeking clarification on when the appointment of a contractor will be made and why it will take until 2009 to publish the draft orders. And hold a public inquiry. "I have also asked why it will take until 2010, subject to funding and statutory processes, for building work to start and whether the date can be brought forward, as the number of accidents and deaths on this stretch of road warrants urgent action." Cambridgeshire County Councillor John Reynolds, lead member for planning and regional matters said: "Improving the A14 is the key to unlocking Cambridgeshire's future prosperity. The road is locally, nationally and internationally important and anyone who drives on it knows just how congested it is. "The county council and its partners have supported the Orange route and we are glad that our comments that it should be three lanes have been taken on board. What is important is that the work starts as soon as possible. "It will be important to make sure the Highways Agency gets the details right and local communities involved.