LONG-AWAITED UPGRADES to Yorkshire’s beleaguered roads network could take more than five years to come to fruition despite the Government claiming that improvements to the region’s transport infrastructure are vital to fulfil its Northern Powerhouse vision.
Motorists have been warned they face disruptions during a wide-ranging five-year package of work costing £1.3bn for the region’s motorways which will target a series of notorious bottlenecks - including several in and around Leeds - in the hope of creating “free-flowing” routes.
Work will start by 2019-20 on most of the schemes, but the upgrades could stretch into the next Parliament.
Highways officials have stressed every effort will be made to minimise disruption, although they admitted drivers will be faced with “a bit of pain” on the roads.
Speaking ahead of a major stakeholder conference in Leeds last night, Government decision-makers said the work was “absolutely key” to fulfilling Chancellor George Osborne’s vision for the so-called Northern Powerhouse.
The Yorkshire and North-East Divisional Director for Highways England, Vanessa Gilbert, said: “Motorways and trunk roads form the backbone of the region’s economy and this huge investment will ensure they remain healthy for many years to come.
“Ultimately we are aiming to deliver a network that is less congested, more free-flowing and more reliable for people.
Obviously we have got to go through a bit of pain to get there. But our key focus is going to be on trying to minimise that disruptive impact on motorists,”
She said improving links between Leeds and other key cities like Manchester and Sheffield was a vital part of the package, adding that additional plans were being drawn up for potential work stretching over a decade but only the next five years are at a “more developed” stage.
Projects in the Leeds area that will start by 2019/20 include an upgrade to the M1’s junction 45 to improve access to the Aire Valley development.
Other upgrades include a scheme on the M62 at Chain Bar to tackle severe delays between Leeds and Bradford, as well as another initiative on the M621 between junctions one to seven.
The M62 from junctions 20 to 25 is to be upgraded to a “smart” motorway with an extra lane and variable speed limits to keep traffic moving.
Also in the pipeline are improvements to Lofthouse Interchange near Leeds, one of the region’s worst bottlenecks.
Jeremy Bloom, Highways England’s Director of Major Projects in the North, said: “Drivers in Yorkshire and the Humber will see significant investment in major A roads and motorways across the region.
“It’s absolutely a key element of the Northern Powerhouse vision.
“Improving connectivity, improving accessibility and reducing congestion is key to the future prosperity of the whole of the North. We’ll be playing a very significant part in that Northern Powerhouse, and Leeds and Yorkshire are absolutely central to that.”
He added that “innovative ways of implementing the schemes” would include more of the construction work done off site.
“We are doing everything we can to minimise disruption, because we can’t have the whole network gridlocked,” he said.
“Our job is to try and keep the traffic moving as much as possible while building these schemes and we are trying to be more intelligent in how we plan work.
“We have five years committed funding, which helps us to be more efficient.
“It is important to say though that if we don’t do this work, congestion will get so bad that we will become gridlocked, so there isn’t really an alternative.”
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick Mcloughlin said: “Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity.
“That’s why, as part of our long-term economy plan, we are making the biggest investment in roads in a generation.
“The £1.3bn investment in Yorkshire and the Humber over the next five years will significantly improve journeys and help create jobs,
“Through schemes like these we are building the Northern Powerhouse and creating opportunities for hardworking people across the nation.”
Highways England is the new wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising maintaining and operating England’s’ motorways and major A-roads. It replaces the Highways Agency.
Previously funding was only granted year by year, whereas it will now be allocated in blocks of five years.