The Government has outlined a new road toll scheme that could pave the way for similar initiatives at congestion blackspots across the country.
The scheme involves the A14, which takes traffic from the M1/M6 interchange at Catthorpe in Leicestershire to the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. A widened and enhanced section running through Cambridgshire would be subject to tolls, according to the Department for Transport.
It marks a U-turn for the Government whichhas previously said that existing roads would not be subject to road tolls.
Subject to agreement with local authorities on a funding package and confirmation at the next Spending Review, construction work could begin by 2018.
Plans for the A14 include a new bypass to replace the existing road around Huntingdon and upgrades as far east as Milton. Two new roads would be built in parallel to the current A14 (one on each side of the A14) immediately north of Cambridge for local use. They would not be subject to tolls.
Meanwhile, the existing A14 carriageway will be upgraded through the removal of accesses and junctions, and improvements to junctions at the northern and southern ends.
Study work has confirmed that funding for these can be generated in part through tolling a length of the enhanced A14, featuring around 20 miles of new or widened road.
However, more work will be taken to determine the best tolling solution, including what length the tolled section should be, how users would pay and what the tariff should be.
Policing would be required to ensure heavy goods vehicles used the A14 toll road rather than the new sections to prevent a similar situation with the M6 toll road; Macquarie recently wrote £150m off the value of its subsidiary, Midland Expressway, which operates the road due to lack of traffic.
The RAC Foundation has previously looked at the business case for building a new, full-length A14 road from the Midlands to Felixstowe and believes that toll charges alone will not cover the project. Public money would still be needed. This new proposal improves prospects for private investors.
The schemes will now enter the DfT roads programme and begin detailed design and statutory processes. They are dependent on local government and commercial decision making and will now be considered in more detail by the relevant local authorities and local enterprise partnerships.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: "The A14 is a crucial strategic route for the east of England, vital not only for international road traffic using the port of Felixstowe but everyone who relies on it daily.
"This is why my department has been working hard to generate innovative and imaginative solutions to tackling long term congestion and I am pleased to be able to unveil what we believe to be the best option for people living locally as well as those who see it as a lifeline to international markets.
"It demonstrates yet again that this coalition government is focused on delivering economic growth and our determination to do everything we can to support delivery of key national infrastructure."
The A14 road improvement package includes:
- Widening of the Cambridge Northern Bypass between Milton and Girton and enhancement of the Girton Interchange.
- Provision of high standard roads for local traffic use running in parallel to an enhanced A14 carriageway between Girton and the area near the current Trinity Foot A14 junction.
- Construction of a bypass to the south of Huntingdon between the area near Trinity Foot and the A1, at both ends tying in with the existing A14.
- A major road scheme between Ellington and Fen Ditton was cancelled in 2010 on affordability grounds. Since then the DfT has been working with local authorities and businesses through the A14 Challenge on alternatives to the previous scheme. Today's announcement is the outcome of this work.