Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Paddy Ashdown has put his weight behind campaigns to dual a major economic artery through the West Country.
The A303 carries up to 30,000 vehicles a day, but single carriageway bottlenecks in Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset are a threat to safety and to economic investment, the peer said. The former MP for Yeovil was speaking this week in support of the Dual It! campaign – being run by the Western Gazette newspaper – to dual sections in Somerset and Dorset, but his reasoning applies equally to two stretches in Wiltshire where councils and communities have also been campaigning for years.
He said: “There are three basic reasons to do this. One is road safety, two is economic regeneration and three is that traffic volume has massively increased.
“It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, even in the early hours of the morning, you are going to get a traffic jam. Sooner or later they are going to have to do this otherwise the road is going to get congested. I’m strongly in favour of this from a road safety and also economic point of view. If we are going to invest in infrastructure then this is crucial.”
The Highways Agency is working with a partnership of local authorities and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership on an economic assessment study into the impact of dualling the A303. Yesterday it said it hopes to submit the study to the Department of Transport for consideration later this year.
In Somerset, the Ilminster by-pass, which alternates between single and dual carriageway, is considered by campaigners to be particularly unsafe. There have been a number of fatal crashes there. In Wiltshire, the single carriageway sections are from the Countess roundabout at Amesbury to Winterbourne Stoke, and from Chicklade to Mere, are also considered dangerous. The village of Winterbourne Stoke straddles the road and the area has seen a number of fatal accidents. The Highways Agency installed a pedestrian crossing and a 40 mile per hour limit now applies, but local councillor Ian West says cars are not slowing down enough and “jump” the crossing’s red traffic light.
A survey last year of the 77,640 vehicles which passed through Winterbourne Stoke High Street during a 12-day period showed that 85 per cent were travelling at or below 46 miles per hour.
Mr West, who represents Till and Wylye Valley division on Wiltshire Council, said: “We are asking that the Highways Agency reduce the speed limit as a matter of urgency, that there is better enforcement, that there should be speed indicating signs at each end of the village, and for an extra speed camera.”
A Highways Agency spokesman said: “We are looking at altering the timing intervals of traffic lights on the A303 pedestrian crossing in Winterbourne Stoke to give drivers more time to stop on amber lights. This safety measure will give added reassurance to villagers crossing the road. The village does not meet Department for Transport standards for a 30mph limit.”