THE major upgrade of the A14, including a new southern bypass of Huntingdon and Godmanchester and part-tolling, that returned to the national roads programme last week looks remarkably similar to the scheme abandoned by the Chancellor in October 2010 – apart from the tolling.

The £1.2billion scheme was said by George Osborne to be unaffordable. But officials at the Department for Transport admitted the cost of the new proposal was estimated at up to £1.5bn.

With tolling predicted to contribute no more than £300m – and it is not yet clear whether that figure is net of the additional capital cost of setting up the tolling regime and then administering it – this is starting to look a bit like a U-turn by the Government.

There is no detail yet, but the proposal looks like a meld of several of the options that consultants Atkins have been modelling following publication of their preliminary report last month.

But it does seem in outline to include a new six-lane southern bypass of Huntingdon between the A1 at Brampton or Buckden and Cambridge Services near Swavesey, and widening on the existing alignment from there to Girton and eastwards, with new parallel roads for local traffic.

Although the DfT announcement is silent on whether the viaduct at Huntingdon will be demolished, it does say that the existing A14 round Huntingdon would become a local road. Given that Cambridgeshire County Council has formally resolved not to accept a detrunked A14 that includes that viaduct, it looks as though the £11m upgrade for which the viaduct was due next year to keep it usable will have to be re-thought by the Highways Agency.

The DfT decision does not guarantee funding at this stage, so what happens to that viaduct could be a litmus test of the Government’s good faith. If both that viaduct work and the detrunking are to go ahead, the £11m will be wasted. If that money is well spent, it follows that the A14 will not be improved in the three years from 2018/19, as the DfT is saying.

So we may know quite soon whether the DfT is serious. If the Highways Agency abandons the plans for the disruptive viaduct work near Huntingdon railway station, we shall know to expect the A14 upgrade to go ahead. If not, we shall fear the worst.

The department said it was also backing a park-and-ride site at Alconbury with links to the guided busway and an express bus service between Peterborough and Cambridge.

The A14 improvement package also includes “widening of the Cambridge Northern Bypass between Milton and Girton and enhancement of the Girton Interchange; provision of high standard roads for local traffic use running in parallel to an enhanced A14 carriageway between Girton and the area near the current Trinity Foot A14 junction; and construction of a bypass to the south of Huntingdon between the area near Trinity Foot and the A1, at both ends tying in with the existing A14,” the DfT said.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: “The A14 is a crucial strategic route for the east of England, vital not only for international road traffic using the port of Felixstowe but everyone who relies on it daily.

“This is why my department has been working hard to generate innovative and imaginative solutions to tackling long term congestion and I am pleased to be able to unveil what we believe to be the best option for people living locally as well as those who see it as a lifeline to international markets.

“It demonstrates yet again that this coalition government is focused on delivering economic growth and our determination to do everything we can to support delivery of key national infrastructure.”

The schemes will now enter the DfT roads programme and begin detailed design and statutory processes.

In the meantime, the department added, the existing A14 carriageway will be upgraded through the removal of accesses and junctions, and improvements to junctions at the northern and southern ends. That may be loose wording: it probably means that removing the junctions will be part of the upgrade rather than an interim measure.