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Just after Parliament went into summer recess, plans slipped out for a tolled 20 mile section of the A14 in Cambridgeshire.


The A14 is the key route connecting the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich with the West Midlands, with its many warehousing distribution and logistics points. The route is busy with freight, and there are ambitious plans to expand Felixstowe, which is easily England’s main commercial container port.


Some of the reporting has been loose, but the DFT Press Release says that construction work could begin by 2018. This depends on a number of factors – government spending plans; agreement with interested local enterprise partnerships, local authorities and ‘commercial decision making’.


The blueprint included a new bypass to replace the existing road around Huntingdon and upgrades along the A14 as far east as Milton. Two new roads would be built in parallel to, with one on each side of, the current A14 immediately north of Cambridge for local use.


Meanwhile, the existing A14 carriageway will be upgraded through the removal of accesses and junctions, and improvements to junctions at the northern and southern ends.


Funding could be generated “in part” through tolling some of the enhanced A14, featuring around 20 miles of new or widened road. However, study was needed on the length of tolled section and other charging details.


The Coalition had committed not to introduce tolls - or prepare for them - on the existing road network during the current Parliament (read: ‘for cars’).

However – the government overwhelmingly accepted the thrust of the ‘Cook Report’, which recommended looking at developing ‘route based strategies’ during 2012 – a Trojan Horse for looking at tolling routes that are currently free. (see related article.)


On the A14, commentators were quick to point out that car drivers would be charged to use a new or widened stretch. However, under the same plans, local traffic would be able to travel for free on new roads running parallel to both sides of the existing A14.


Road pricing pundit Scott Wilson summarised some uncertainties; the exact map has not been agreed and the options will go out to consultation.


He notes that an earlier report for DFT assumed:

·       tolls would apply only in peak periods,  (3 hours in the morning, 3 hours in the afternoon)

·       they would be payable each time the tolled route was entered; and

·       freight vehicles would be charged at a toll (£3) twice that of private cars (£1.50).


However there were now doubts on ‘such low rates’ and charging only for peak periods.


Wilson speculated that the A14 might be leased off to a private company for 40 years for building the upgrade and then operating the route.


He described enthusiasm for tolling as “weak at best” and claimed that the AA was opposing it (presumably due to the cost to its patrols and breakdown vehicles?).

East Anglian MPs welcomed the extra capacity on the busy route, but wanted to see the detail and expressed concern over the impact on their local communities.


The Peterborough Today paper reported that local businesses were concerned about tolling increasing their costs or that motorists avoiding the tolled route would increase traffic on local roads. (Wilson speculates that tolling would almost certainly have to be extended to include the existing road, with pricing to avoid drivers diverting from the main tolled route).


Road Haulage Association (RHA) Area Manager Philip Scotney was totally against the plans. An unnamed spokesman for the RHA was also quoted as supporting new infrastructure, but “we are against tolls...there is no way that haulage companies can absorb the costs, so the end user will have to pay.”


He added: “In a way they’ve got a captive market, it’s the only route from the Midlands to Felixstowe ....we are being held to ransom. What choice have we got?”


Ironically, the cost of developing the A14 is given at around £1.3 billion, the same amount as our ‘top up’ contribution to the European Investment Bank which finances building roads abroad.



FOOTNOTE – ‘No Money Around’


West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock would rather not see the existing A14 tolled, but sighs that “there’s no money around”. He might look a little harder, as Britain is spending billions on dubious causes such as wind turbine subsidies. Through our EU contributions alone we are financing the Rural Roads Rehabilitation Project will build or maintain about 25,000 miles of road in Kenya. Overall objectives include reducing transport costs and travel time, as well as improving road safety.


Our money is also helping Italy with soft loans via the European Investment Bank (EIB). A £400 million line of credit is going to Autostrade per l’Italia, to relieve traffic congestion north of Florence, speed up traffic on the Apennine segment of the A1 and have a positive environmental and employment impact. (But don’t tell the DFT and DECC about the 'environmental improvements' going hand in hand with greater and faster motorway traffic!).

In Italy, the EIB has a long tradition of financing the motorway network.


However, Italy has had to repay a record £307 million to the EU after a motorway project in the south of the country was found to be riven with mafia infiltration, corruption and kickbacks.


The investigation found that more than €381 million was lost through fraud, fake contracts and ghost road works. (Maybe someone could investigate our road works that seem to go on forever?).

Next year’s EU's budget will see large rises in expenditure on road and other infrastructure in southern and eastern Europe, Investment' will also support 'climate change' goals. In June, Britain committed an extra £1.3 billion to its EIB contribution.




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