THE cost of providing a new stretch of the A14 in Huntingdonshire is nearing the £1billion mark – the figure which business leaders feared the Government would take fright and abandon the scheme. According to Roads Minister Tom Harris, the cost of the A14
THE cost of providing a new stretch of the A14 in Huntingdonshire is nearing the £1billion mark - the figure which business leaders feared the Government would take fright and abandon the scheme.
According to Roads Minister Tom Harris, the cost of the A14 Ellington-Fen Ditton improvements has risen sharply once again to £944million.
When the project was first announced on All Fools' Day 2003, the cost was estimated at £490million.
Even as recently as two years ago Highways Agency officials were assuring The Hunts Post that the 22-mile project, which includes a new Huntingdon southern bypass, could still be built for that money.
A year ago the agency admitted costs had risen - the chosen Orange route would cost £640million.
However, last week's announcement adds nearly a further 50 per cent to a cost that was regarded as robust barely a year ago.
A spokesman for the Highways Agency said the revised estimate followed the Nichols review of cost estimation for major strategic roads schemes - they have historically been seriously underestimated.
However, the agency also blames high inflation in the construction industry.
"This is a scheme of national and regional strategic importance, and the agency is committed to taking it forward," the spokesman added.
But business leaders are not convinced that Ministers share that commitment.
John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, fears the Government may do only what is necessary to enable construction of the 9,500-home new town at Northstowe to go ahead and put the rest of the A14 scheme on hold.
"The contractors have been given the whole scheme to work up, but only the middle bit to implement," he told The Hunts Post yesterday (Tuesday). "We may find the other bits don't get done on the timescale required."
Those other bits are principally the entire section between Ellington and Fen Drayton, which includes the most congested parts of the route.
"With all the growth, not doing the whole scheme is unthinkable and untenable," he said. "We have to press for it all to be started simultaneously.
"Once they have worked the scheme up, we want the money committed for the whole project."
Mr Bridge said it was clear the Government could not fund the whole of the committed strategic roads programme on the basis of the revised cost estimates.
"It means some projects will be done and some won't."
Anti-scheme campaigners in the Offords are still calling on the Government to abandon the project and invest the money in rail links for freight and passengers.
Offord solicitor Nita Tinn, who led the A14 Action Group's successful High Court challenge to the original A14 consultation, pointed out that the scheme's cost had virtually doubled.
"We must now ask whether spending almost £1billion on this road represents value for taxpayers' money when the Government could improve congestion and reduce carbon emissions simultaneously by improving freight and passenger rail links at considerably less cost.
"It is time we re-examined this obsession with widening the A14," she told The Hunts Post.
But the £60million currently being spent on upgrading the freight link between Felixstowe and Peterborough will take only two per cent of heavy lorries off the A14, according to the Department for Transport's estimates and the Highways Agency's statistics of current usage.
And building a new passenger railway would be likely to exceed even the £944million A14 costs.