COMPLETION of a £32M guided busway linking Gatwick Airport with nearby towns is in doubt unless the Strategic Rail Authority meets an immediate £3M funding gap, NCE has learned.
West Sussex County Council (WSCC) will apply to the SRA for £3M next month after train operator Govia withdrew funding following the SRA's decision to slash its South Central franchise from 20 years to seven this summer.
WSCC needs at least an extra £1M by the end of February to keep to schedule but the three month funding approval process is likely to scupper that deadline.
'We are talking to the SRA to see if there is scope to shorten the procedure, ' said WSCC project director Tony Collins. 'If not we will have to start phase two with a reduced scope, and add work back in as and when funding becomes available.'
The Fastway scheme linking the towns of Crawley and Horley with Gatwick Airport is the first to be built in the south of England.
Buses will run on segregated guided busways only at major junctions and traffic lights, covering just 2.9km of the 24km route. Fastway buses will run along the sides of roads rather than in central reservations, as in other guided bus schemes, to cut construction costs.
Nearly half of the £29M project cost is publicly funded and Gatwick Airport has committed £4M leaving over £10M needed from developers.
The intention has always been to start before full funding was in place, with the scheme constructed in three phases, explained Collins. 'We had the choice of waiting five years or more to get the full funding, or to use a staged process with the potential to deliver something as quickly as we can.'
Contractor Nuttall is five months into the one year construction of phase one, which will link suburbs south of Crawley with the town centre.
Nuttall is also contracted to construct the year long phases two and three, funding permitting. To ensure construction of phase two can begin as scheduled next summer, Nuttall must get the go-ahead by February.
An SRA spokesman said this week that funding for Fastway may be available from its £400M Rail Passenger Partnerships fund.
INFOPLUS www. westsussex. gov. uk/ fastway