Fury at the cost of A14 signs

THE �70million scheme to install new electronic messaging signs on the A14 in Suffolk was branded a waste of money last night – by MPs campaigning for much-needed road improvements in the county.

Conservative MPs spoke of their anger and frustration that tens of millions of pounds is being spent on the new signs while vital work on the A11 and at Copdock Mill, near Ipswich, is under review.

The overhead signs will display information to drivers, including warnings of problems ahead, to keep traffic flowing,

West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock said he was frustrated the scheme is going ahead while the A11 decision has still to be made.

He and South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss held a meeting in Elveden on Friday night to try to press the Government for a quick decision on dualling the last single-carriageway section of the A11 between Norwich and its junction with the M11 in Essex.

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He said: “The �70m that the signs will cost would pay for at least half of the A11 improvement, probably a higher proportion.

“This road would produce economic benefits 20 times greater than its cost – I can’t see that the installation of 72 new signs will have anything like that impact on the region.

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“The signs were approved by the last Government and left as a legacy to the new administration. There is nothing that could be done about the scheme because it was already well underway when we took power – but it does make me very angry.”

On the other side of the county Ipswich MP Ben Gummer was also angry – he has been pressing the Highways Agency to come up with an improved junction the junction of the A12 and A14 at Copdock Mill, not just installing traffic lights as has been proposed.

He described the cost of the project as “absolutely ridiculous”.

“These signs are nowhere near as necessary or as important as making meaningful changes. For �70m we could have a completely redesigned junction at Copdock Mill able to cope with traffic well into the future – and still have money left over.

“That would be far more use that these signs which were just a Labour job creation exercise.”

The A14 signs were approved by former Transport Minister Chris Mole when he was MP for Ipswich, and he has launched a staunch defence of the project.

He said: “They were approved as part of the Government’s fiscal stimulus to ensure jobs were retained in vital areas like civil engineering when the recession hit hard.

“I’m not going to apologise for protecting skilled jobs – nor for improving road information for drivers so they don’t have to sit in traffic jams. I would have thought that was something the new Government would have approved of, with its green agenda.”

Mr Mole said it was wrong to suggest that the A11 could have been dualled as an alternative to the A14 work.

“The work on the A11 would have been completed by now had it not been for the objections which forced a public inquiry.

“I was under pressure from (former Norwich South MP) Charles Clarke and several Tories on the route to give approval before the election because they knew it would go into a review afterwards.

“That was not possible for reasons of timing. The money going to the A14 improvements was not an issue.”

A14 improvements:

- 72 signs, linked by high-tech cables, will give drivers advanced warning of any problems ahead, in theory allowing them to find alternative routes if there are major problems on the road.

- The programme started at Catthorpe in Leicestershire – where the A14 meets the M1/M6 junction – last summer and has been moving east over the last 15 months.

- The last section, between Ipswich and Felixstowe, is due to be completed during the autumn.

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