MAJOR disruption is forecast for local roads in the New Year when a section of the area’s major trunk road is closed for three months.
The Highways Agency will shut the five-kilometre single carriageway stretch of the A303 between Mere and the Willoughby Hedge service station near Hindon for 14 weeks at the beginning of February to undertake urgent works.
In what have been described by the project manager as “horrendous” diversions, thousands of motorists using the road daily will be directed on to smaller A and B roads in the area to connect their journeys to the South West and London.
Traffic travelling towards London will be directed off the dual carriageway at Podimore roundabout near Ilchester, up the A37 to Shepton Mallet, along the A361 to Frome, then on to the A36 around Warminster, dropping on to the A303 at Wylye. Lighter vehicles will also be directed up the A371 through Castle Cary, which already suffers from huge amounts of traffic, to join the diversion route.
The western diversion will take traffic on to the A350 at the Furze Hill junction and south to Shaftesbury, along the B3081 through Gillingham and out to rejoin the A303 at Penselwood. There are also suggestions that traffic might be directed from Gillingham to Mere along the B3092 instead.
About 21,000 motorists use the A303 in both directions at Mere every day.
Dave Frampton, Highways Agency project manager, said: “The diversion routes are going to be quite horrendous. But we have designed it to work like a clock so the whole of the A303 traffic does not go through one town.”
He said he expected the first few days to be difficult but thought the pressure could ease as motorists used maps and sat nav to find alternative routes around the area. Weight restrictions will be put on the B3092 and the B3095 in the Deverills.
Signposts across the south of the country will warn motorists early on about the disruption on the A303 to deter them from using the route, which poses other implications for the local economy. All the ports, motorways, and junctions to the A303 will suggest different roads for travel.
“If I can keep people away from this area I will,” Mr Frampton added. “There are hundreds of routes people can take.”
He said the “necessary” round the clock work being undertaken from 9th February involved substantial resurfacing.
The trunk road operators for the A303, Inter Route Joint Venture, have identified urgent works on the stretch of road. A section of the road at Willoughby Hedge requires major reconstruction, with engineers having to dig to the foundations to rebuild the carriageway. The road will also be widened by a metre to allow engineers to access services such as telephone lines. Safety barriers will be replaced and extra right-hand turn lanes put in, plus there will also be tree cutting, sign maintenance, and drainage works during the closure.
“We have got to the stage where we are resurfacing patches on patches,” said Mr Frampton. “If we can get away without closing the road we will, but with a single lane section once you have cut a hole in the road it is not safe to let traffic squeeze past.”
The Highways Agency has been consulting freight haulage companies, police, councils, and the emergency services. Public information days will be held locally next month.
Henry Hobhouse, Somerset county and district councillor for Castle Cary, said the plans to divert traffic up the A371, where there have been many fatal and serious injury accidents in the last few years, was “appalling”.
He said the volume of traffic on the road would be on par with that generated during the Royal Bath and West Show, but residents would have to endure congestion for three months.
He was also concerned for the local economy as roads became clogged and people were put off from visiting the area.
“How are we expected to run a tourism industry when our roads are going to be clogged with traffic for three months?” he asked.
“The A371 through Castle Cary and Ansford is already of major concern due to the quantity of people killed or seriously injured. the diversion route suggested by the Highways Agency is appalling.
“People in the east of Somerset are going to find life incredibly difficult.”