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South west council leaders look to resurrect A303 Stonehenge tunnel project

Plans for a £1bn programme to widen the remaining single lane carriageway sections of the A303 between Wiltshire and Devon have been resurrected by south west council leaders.

Council leaders and transport chiefs from across the south west held a A303 improvement summit meeting last week to plan ways to raise the £1bn needed to dual the remaining single carriageway sections of the key arterial route. Five separate schemes are needed, including the canned £512M Stonehenge tunnel.

Somerset County Council convened the summit believing there was scope to seek new funding in light of chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement claim that pension funds could be used to fund up to £20bn of infrastructure schemes.

“This is a fabulous opportunity to put a joint bid together to government that will bring huge benefits to Somerset and the whole of the West Country,” said Somerset County Council leader Ken Maddock. “We will be working closely with our partners to put our case forward strongly.”

Somerset County Council invited representatives from Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Plymouth Councils as well as the Highways Agency and Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership. A multi-agency task group will now be set up to lobby government ministers to progress this project further.

Widening the A303

The project to dual the remaining A303 west of Stonehenge requires a total of five separate schemes, totalling over 72km in length. In late 2005 the combined cost was put at £575M, excluding Stonehenge. At that time the cost of the Stonehenge scheme, including a 2.1km long tunnel, was estimated to be £540M, so the whole programme could come in at well over £1bn.

The Stonehenge tunnel scheme was finally canned in May 2009 and replaced with £159M of modest junction improvements on the single carriageway A303. A public inquiry backed a 2.1km long bored tunnel beneath Stonehenge more than five years earlier and contractor Balfour Beatty was ready to begin construction. But the scheme was shelved on cost grounds in 2005 after the discovery that unforeseen ground conditions threatened to significantly increase costs.

The remaning four schemes are also likely to prove problematic. No detailed alignments for the other four schemes have been published and there are likely to be environmental objections raised. Sixteen kilometres lie within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Readers' comments (3)

  • I was involved in the route planning of the dualling of the A303 across Somerset from Wiltshire to Devon. This survey was carried out by Ove Arup; the client was the Devon Sub-Unit RCU. The work was presented in Taunton and the Final Report submittted to the client in 1974 - 38 years ago!

    Brian Corbett, FICE

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  • Barry Walton

    "Sixteen kilometres lie" along one of Britain's most annoying traffic jams and it is time that it was put right. How it is that the stonehengers can get away with a carpark, shops, temporary toilets, a tasteless fence, their own tunnel and astraturfed walkways but halt a road improvement that would reduce the attendant stalled traffic is beyond understanding.

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  • John Mather

    It does appear rather odd that we can afford £32bn for HS2 but cannot afford £1bn to dual the A303. But then I just heard that road maintenance funds were cut to cover inflation on the grant to Network Rail. So why should I be surprised...

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  • That is a good point, John. With the BCR for High Speed 2 dipping as low as 1.4; be interesting to see what it now would be for A303. Any ideas out there?

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