PLANS for a £1.2million upgrade of the A14 through Huntingdonshire are likely to be axed but could come back as a toll road scheme.

PLANS for a £1.2million upgrade of the A14 through Huntingdonshire are likely to be axed but could come back as a toll road scheme.

Last week, the Government announced that further work on the scheme would be delayed at least until the autumn. The temptation to scrap such a high-cost a project will be overwhelming to a new Government bent on cuts. However, the Government may be willing to provide seedcorn funding, as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested on Monday, for a toll road.

"Maybe people would buy it if it were the only way to bring the scheme forward," one source close to the Government told The Hunts Post.

Such a move might appeal to environmentalists, UK hauliers who have to pay tolls abroad, objectors to the current scheme who wish to see it changed along more eco-friendly lines and

businesses.

The heavily-delayed scheme for 22 miles of new and wider road, which includes a southern bypass of Huntingdon, was first announced on April 1, 2003 and should have been open to traffic this year. Now it looks unaffordable in its present form, however, the congestion is costing the regional economy billions of pounds.

Road tolling is commonplace in the UK and in continental Europe. Many estuarial crossings have been tolled for years - such as the Thames at Dartford, the Severn and the Humber. And the M6 toll road in the West Midlands has proved to be a price worth paying by many users for avoiding the 1970s Midland Links motorways.

British hauliers resent the fact that their European competitors, particularly since cabotage (haulage legislation) was liberalised in the EU in the 1980s, have been able to use British roads free and without even buying UK-duty-paid diesel. Tolling could help to level that playing field.

But road tolling can bring different problems, particularly rat-running to avoid the tolls - which is sufficient problem already for villages in the toll-free A14 corridor.

The current road design, which includes an extensive network of parallel local roads and superseded trunk roads, would have to be modified by weight limits or other devices (possibly tolls low enough to make rat-running unattractive or a one-off vignette system such as in Switzerland).

- Would you be prepared to pay to use a free-flowing A14 if that were the only way to get the new road built quickly? Send your views to The Editor, The Hunts Post, 30 High Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TB, or e-mail editor@huntspost.co.uk