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How the £1.5billion A14 upgrade was opened 8 months early thanks to innovative thinking and lockdown

It was Britain's biggest road project and cost £1.5billion, but many motorists hardly noticed its completion.

The major A14 upgrade between Cambridge and Huntingdon was completed eight months early in May – right in the middle of lockdown, with a record low level of traffic.

Highways England bosses could feel a victim of their own success. The same drivers who were complaining about the traffic caused by the road works, which began in 2016, were now off the road and unable to see the fruit of the labour.

TheA14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade opened 8 months early. Photo: James Walker (40224948)
TheA14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade opened 8 months early. Photo: James Walker (40224948)

But the agency has instead seen the advantage of having world class infrastructure ready and waiting for when Britain fully goes back to work.

David Bray, Highways England’s project director for the A14 scheme, said: “Opening eight months early, and on budget, shows what the Highways England and the UK construction industry can achieve with efficient working and innovative thinking.

“I would like to thank everyone across Highways England and our supply chain for their involvement in this project, as well as road users, residents and stakeholders for their patience and support during the work.”

More than 85,000 use the A14 section every day and the two-lane section was frequently congested, partly due to a high number of lorries using it.

The works essentially improved a 21 mile section of the A14 by upgrading it to three lanes in each direction, and four between Bar Hill and Girton.

Highways England estimate this could shave 20 minutes off some journeys, and save as much as £70million across the board as a result. It could also play a part in helping local business by strengthening links between the Midlands and the east.

The project has had additional benefits to local communities, and has: Delivered 24 miles of new routes for cyclists, walkers, and horse riders; a new link road, the A1307, from Cambridge to Godmanchester; the replanting of trees; funding 55 community projects from a £450,000 pot; and donating more than £100,000 to local charities.

Some work along the A14 continues on landscaping, as well as finishing the cycle and footpaths. But after three and a half years of diversions and temporary speed limits it was a landmark moment when it was finally possible to drive the route without interruption.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “The timing of completion as we begin to recover post-Covid-19 is of significant importance as businesses try to find new ways to operate and get staff and goods into work safely.

“I know from personal experience how businesses as well as individuals are already benefiting from the shorter and more reliable journey times.

“It is a welcome tonic at the current time.”

And for this we have to thank the efforts of the many. More than 14,000 were employed to work in total (including 2,500 at one time at the peak) on the project, which was originally due to be completed in December. Building took 14 million man hours - which would amass 1,600 years if put together.

Following a major new bypass opening for Huntington in December 2019, Highways England will now turn attention to the final phase of the upgrade. This will see the demolition of the old viaduct and opening of new link roads in Huntingdon. Work is said to be ‘progressing well’ with completion expected before the end of 2021. But based on the track record so far, it would not be a surprise if it was sooner rather than later.

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