Construction of one of the UK's largest road projects is being fast tracked following last month's latest public consultation on the project.
Engineers still hope to finish the estimated £700M widening and realignment of the trafficchoked A14 north west of Cambridge by its original 2015 target date. The project has been delayed due to local opposition.
The 14 links major motorways with the east coast ports of Felixstowe and Harwich and provides part of Cambridge's northern bypass.
Key sections between Ellington and Fen Ditton are already at full capacity, carrying up to 85,000 vehicles per day, 25% of which are lorries.
A recent multiple pile-up on the road triggered trafc gridlock and was claimed by the local chamber of commerce to have cost industry £3.5M in lost time alone.
The Highways Agency says that if nothing is done to improve this section of the A14, its peak journey times will have increased by 50% by 2029.
But a new road bypassing the most congested section, coupled with the widening of an adjoining easterly section, would reduce current trip times by 20% over the same period.
A preferred alignment for this separate 17km widened eastern section was announced in March.
But the main 19km ofine diversion remains controversial.
Following 11 months of legal debate with a local residents' protest group over possible routes, the Agency has now completed a further public consultation process.
Instead of offering a single realignment route put forward at the previous consultation in 2005, the Agency has gone out to consultation on six possible options - consisting of the previously identified routes plus an extra route through a landfill site.
Without putting forward any recommendation for a particular route, it has encouraged local people to express their views on all the proposed alignments.
'It's vitally important that the public gets the opportunity to comment on the road it really wants even if it costs more than other equally viable routes, ' says Geoff Chateld, Agency project leader for the A14 scheme.
'This must be the best way forward and we have conducted our latest consultation without expressing a preference for any of the options.' The 14-week public consultation notched up more than 5,000 submissions. 'If there's a strong preference in these representations for one particular route, that will weigh heavily in our recommendation to the transport minister, ' Chateld adds.
The aim is still to achieve the scheduled 2009 public inquiry date. The Agency's consultant WSP is reviewing critical path activities for the project and is conducting advance work and surveys within the study area, ahead of an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) contract award.
WSP has also been involved in reviewing the technical and environmental aspects of all six of the proposed route options.
'By smoothing out any technical or environmental issues, we hope to minimise objections and hopefully speed up the public inquiry, ' says WSP project manager Charles Evans.
'If some design and construction work is carried out in parallel, we could open the scheme in sections, completing the whole route by 2015.' Attacked by opponents of proposed routes and by local commerce and industry bodies clamouring work to speed up Chateld admits that sometimes he feels he cannot win.
'We are caught in the middle, trying to please everyone.
But the public have reacted very positively to our latest consultation, ' he adds.
Acceleration is already under way and the tender process, based on an ECI form of procurement, began last month.
Tenderers are being asked to look at all the routes reviewed at public consultation, although the contract will not be awarded until a preferred routehas been announced.
The gency's commendation is expected this summer. The selected ECI contractor will be chosen from those now involved in the tendering process will be later this year, allowing the ve year construction period to start in 2010, less than a year after the results of the public inquiry are known.
Route Map Relieving what local papers have labelled 'the road to hell', the six possible 19km long new routes would bypass Huntingdon, Brampton and Godmanchester.
But they all also run close to the villages of Offord Cluny and Offord D'Arcy, home to the well-organised Offords Action Group.
Closest to the villages is the Agency's 2005 orange route, the only one offered during the rst public consultation.
This was opposed by the Offords Action Group which claimed it did not follow the route recommended by an important earlier report, the Cambridge to Huntingdon Multi Modal Study, and also that it ran too close to their villages.
Located north of the Offord villages, the orange route fringes a 100ha partially active landll site.
The Agency claims costs would escalate by an extra £75M if the new road ran through the site. But for the latest consultation process, WSP did include an additional route crossing the reclaimed landfill site.
The Offords Action Group is now supporting this brown