A NEW improvement scheme for the A14 in Cambridgeshire could be back on track if Huntingdonshire folk put enough pressure on Cabinet Ministers, Huntingdon’s MP believes.

The Hunts Post and Jonathan Djanogly MP are today launching a campaign to persuade Ministers to reinstate the project to relieve congestion on the oft-disrupted road, improve the area's economic prospects and save lives.

Although the 48 miles of A14 represent just 1.7 per cent of Cambridgeshire's road mileage, the road accounts for 7.5 per cent of the county's serious casualty toll.

As well as being the only non-motorway in the Department for Transport's strategic road network, the A14 is a Trans-European Network, linking Britain's East Coast ports with the country's industrial heartlands.

A £1.2billion scheme to widen the 22 miles between Ellington in west Huntingdonshire and Fen Ditton north-east of Cambridge was abandoned as unaffordable in October last year.

But Huntingdon MP Jonatahn Djanogly believes it is just the sort of capital project the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, needs to stimulate the UK's recovery from recession.

"The Chancellor has been saying he intends to allocate resource, possibly in conjunction with the private sector, to finance infrastructure projects as part of the effort to regenerate the economy," he told The Hunts Post. "I would say that the A14 merits inclusion as a major national benefit."

Mr Djanogly believes the Treasury may now be persuaded of the economic importance of getting traffic flowing freely in and through Cambridgeshire - a study by the East of England Development Agency some years ago put the cost of delays caused by the road at billions of pounds in damage to the region's economy.

The MP has written to the Chancellor and the new Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, urging them to back the project, and has contacted other Cambridgeshire MPs, local authorities and business leaders to garner support.

"Not only does it have an extraordinarily high accident rate, but it is also holding up business in Cambridgeshire and the eastern region," he told ministerial colleagues.

"Furthermore, as the main European thoroughfare from Felixstowe docks to Birmingham, this road is of national strategic importance.

"Given that this region is one of the fastest-growing in the country, with the new enterprise zone at Alconbury, significant proposals for new housing and rapid business growth prospects, I foresee a significant crunch point once the economy recovers and road demand becomes even higher than is now the case."

Mr Djanogly said that, although the St Ives-Cambridge guided busway was now in operation and proving popular, it was "hardly going to make a pin-prick" in reducing traffic volume on the A14.

He added: "An expert once told me that, if [the occupants of] every private car using the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge were to go on public transport, traffic would reduce by only some five per cent."

He acknowledged that taxpayers would find it hard to fund the project fully, but believed that some form of partnership with the private sector could deliver the new road.

He believes Roads Minister Mike Penning, who knows the road and its problems well, is sympathetic.

"The situation is changing, and I want us to be in there," he added.

TOLL ROAD

MR DJANOGLY'S move and recent briefing by the Treasury - though the Department for Transport is reportedly less keen - revives the spectre of some form of tolling, a prospect first raised exclusively by The Hunts Post in June last year - possibly by tolling a new southern bypass of Huntingdon and Godmanchester or 'shadow tolling' the whole project.

Shadow tolling - shorthand for a design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) contract - is already in use on the 13-mile A1(M) between Alconbury and Alwalton, Peterborough.

The (£128m at 1996 prices) A1(M) was built by a joint venture known as Road Management Services (Peterborough) Limited, a consortium of bankers, civil engineers and construction interests, which will operate it for 30 years from its opening in October 1998. At the end of that time, it must be handed over to the state with a guarantee of at least 10 years' further residual life. In the meantime, the Government pays shadow tolls on the basis of traffic volume and vehicle type, and the road's users do not feel a thing.

What may be particularly attractive to ministers is that it incentivises the use of good quality materials and workmanship, and transfers most of the financial risk to the private sector - at a price, of course.

In this instance, the price is a shadow toll payment (£22m in 2010), which funds the original construction cost, loan interest, and day-to-day running and maintenance costs. Part of the deal is that the contractor is penalised if lanes are not available to traffic.

Booth-based 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. 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.

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.

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