Traffic officers to tackle A12 hold-ups

THREE teams of traffic officers could soon be easing congestion on the “desperate” A12 after Essex County Council said it would pay £1.3million to set up the service.

Elliot Furniss

THREE teams of traffic officers could soon be easing congestion on the “desperate” A12 after Essex County Council said it would pay £1.3million to set up the service.

Council leader Lord Hanningfield has pledged to spend between £50million and £100m to improve the troubled dual-carriageway in the next few years and one of the first measures could be the introduction of the officers.

They would help in the recovery of accidents and be on hand to ease congestion and delays on the road, which costs the local economy an estimated £100m a year.

The council is currently negotiating the cost of the project with the Highways Agency, which is responsible for the A12, but could pay for the officers itself if an agreement cannot be reached.

The traffic officer service predominantly operates on the motorway network in the UK but the council is looking at the recommendations put forward in the recent independent inquiry into the state of the A12 and wants them up and running on the road by the end of next year.

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In a report, Lord Hanningfield and the council head of highways, Norman Hume, said the inquiry into the A12 had proved a “unique and valuable experience” and discussions with the Highways Agency have so far been “extremely productive and encouraging”.

“Early indications suggest that the A12 could be managed through the introduction of three traffic officer units operating on a 24/7 basis,” they said.

“A business case is needed to examine the potential benefits to the Essex economy of introducing such a scheme in the context of the potential running costs.”

They said the start up cost of the scheme would be £1.3m with ongoing running costs of £750,000 per year.

Last week the East Anglian Daily Times revealed that the A12 inquiry had cost the council about £48,000, but Lord Hanningfield said it was a small price to pay for the “most desperate road in the country”.

The report will be put to the council's cabinet at an upcoming meeting but one opposition councillor said there “must be a limit” to what the Essex taxpayer should have to pay for.

Tom Smith-Hughes, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at the council, said the council should focus on getting its own house in order before taking on the A12.

He said: “We should certainly put forward the case to the Highways Agency and expect them to pay for it - if they say no we would want to know why.

“It is their road - are they happy with the accidents that are costing the Essex economy £100 million a year?”

A spokesman from the Highways Agency said it was studying the findings of the inquiry and working with regional partners, including the council, to consider its recommendations.

Other ideas to come from the inquiry that will be put to the cabinet as the “proposed way forward” include the formation of a multi-agency A12 Alliance and the submission of a package of measures to provide guidance on funding for the road for the next decade.