The £1.5 billion upgrade of the A14 is playing a “crucial role” in the nation’s economic recovery from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Highways England has said.

Workers celebrated the completion of the River Ouse viaduct.Workers celebrated the completion of the River Ouse viaduct.

It says the revamped road, between Huntingdon and Cambridge, will bring £2.5 billion of benefits to the UK economy.

Almost four million drivers have used the road since it opened in May, eight months early - despite traffic levels more than halving during the lockdown.

David Bray, Highways England’s project director for the A14 scheme, said: “The new A14 is a key addition to our national road network. Now it is open for traffic the country is better connected and this has a positive impact on national and local growth. The project is also leaving a positive legacy for local communities and the environment for years to come.

“Opening eight months early, and on budget, shows what the Highways England and the UK construction industry can achieve with efficient working and innovative thinking.”

A14 C2H River Great Ouse viaduct - March 2018A14 C2H River Great Ouse viaduct - March 2018

He added: “I would like to thank everyone across Highways England and our supply chain for their involvement in this project, as well as road users, residents and stakeholders for their patience and support during the work.”

The upgrade to the previously heavily congested road, covering a 21 mile section, is Highways England’s flagship scheme which has seen the biggest investment in a road project in a generation.

Highways England said businesses would get a major boost, saving on average a total of £70 million a year, shaving 20 minutes off journeys and strengthening links between the Midlands and the East of England, including the UK’s largest container port at Felixstowe.

Before the scheme started 85,000 vehicles used the road each day, with a higher proportion of lorries than a typical A road and there was heavy congestion on a regular basis.

A14 C2H ECML bridge beam installation - Dec 2018A14 C2H ECML bridge beam installation - Dec 2018

Traffic levels fell to a daily low of 7,596 in late March as the lockdown started to bite but had risen to just over 71,000 by early July.

John Bridge OBE, chief executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “The business community is really delighted at the early opening of the A14 and, in particular, the very positive and timely way the scheme has been developed.

“Whilst there has been some short-term challenges which can be expected in a construction scheme of this magnitude, the significant medium and long term benefits will we know far outweigh the short term issues.”

He added: “The timing of completion as we begin to recover post-COVID19 is of significant importance as businesses try to find new ways to operate and get staff and goods into work safely. I know from personal experience how businesses as well as individuals are already benefiting from the shorter and more reliable journey times. A welcome tonic at the current time.”

Work in progress on the River Great Ouse.Work in progress on the River Great Ouse.

Cllr Ian Bates, Cambridgeshire County Council’s chairman of the Economy and Environment Committee, said: “The whole A14 project is welcome news for residents and communities along the A14.

“It will not only benefit drivers with quicker and safer journeys but will ease congestion experienced by many local communities and is great news for those drivers who have patiently waited in traffic while the new roads have been built.”

“The A14 upgrade was vital to boost the local economy, improve connectivity and support growth in the area. I would like to thank Highways England and their contractors for their hard work and thank local residents and businesses for their patience during this project.”

The scheme had been expected to open in December, but the last of the roadworks were removed in May. The new 12-mile Huntingdon bypass opened a year ahead of schedule last December.

.Work in progress on the A1198 bridge..Work in progress on the A1198 bridge.

Work is continuing on parts of the project in the Huntingdon area, including the demolition of the viaduct above the town’ railway station, is said to be progressing well and is due to be completed by 2022.