Two caveats to work beginning in April 2024 on the long awaited £6.8m B1040 Somersham Road/Wheatsheaf Road/Bluntisham Heath Road in Cambridgeshire have been put forward by the county council.
Although funding was agreed in 2021 for the Wheatsheaf crossroads, and a detailed scheme for the new traffic signalised junction finalised two months ago, the council says two hurdles remain.
First is to hope that a contractor can be found through what is known as the Eastern Highways Alliance Framework so that a tender process can begin this month with an expected award in February 2024.
And secondly that the land needed for the new junction alignment is secured on time.
The alliance framework comprises Cambridgeshire and nine other local authorities across the region that has pinpointed a group of companies eligible to tender for key contracts. The process speeds up delivery of key highways contracts and delivers cost savings.
“If a suitable award cannot be achieved using the framework, a competitive open procurement process will be followed, although that will introduce a delay of four months to the programme,” says a report to Tuesday’s highways and transport committee.
And on securing the land, the report says that “since the negotiations are with the landowners of a single farm estate and that progress is being made with the negotiations officers believe that the negotiations will be successful.
“There is still an outside risk that this is not the case, and in that event a compulsory purchase order process would need to be progressed which could potentially add 18 months to the programme.
“Negotiations are ongoing with the landowner to secure the land required to facilitate the utility diversions, construction compound and land for the junction improvement.
“Work on site cannot commence until the requisite land acquisition has been completed”.
The junction is a priority for the county council. Casualty statistics make grim reading.
Councillors will hear that between January 2015 and December 2020 there were 20 injury collisions including two fatal and two serious injury collisions.
The fatal and serious collisions all occurred in 2019 and 2020 and the report says the council “has been named as an interested party in the inquest into the 2020 fatality by the coroner. Improvements to lining and road marking were installed in 2016”.
Since the start of 2021 to August 2023 there have been a further seven injury collisions, one of these being serious in March 2022.
The council has agreed that vehicle activated signs will be installed to serve as advanced warning of the current crossroad junction and these will serve as a temporary improvement until the new signalised junction has been completed.
The materials for this instalment have been ordered and anticipated delivery is early December 2023.
“When the vehicle activated signs are removed, they will be reused to highlight another crossroads junction in the county,” says the report.
It also notes that a significant period has elapsed since the funding was awarded in 2021because “key stages in the scheme development” needed to be undertaken.
The report says that whilst the initial feasibility study had concluded that a traffic signal scheme was possible, a first stage of design needed to consider the various layout options.
A project board concluded that a layout with widening mainly to the west of the junction would minimise the number of landowners required in the land acquisition negotiation.
The council has also undertaken transport modelling, site testing and development of the preliminary design.
Detailed design included liaison with utility owners regarding diversions required to their networks and land acquisition negotiations.
The detailed design has been completed by Milestone, which outlines a 4-way signal-controlled junction. The existing alignment will be shifted to the west and right-hand turn lanes will be provided on the north-bound and south-bound arms of the B1040.
Additionally, segregated running lanes will be constructed on the B1040 north-bound and south-bound approaches to the new junction.
Work on the junction is estimated to be at least six months.
The report adds that keeping everyone involved up to date will be important and that the public will be advised that “delays should be anticipated during the construction period”.
The report says data on the Killed and Serious Injury (KSI) records for Cambridgeshire “demonstrate that this is an important issue to be addressed in Cambridgeshire.
“This scheme when implemented will help to reduce the KSI current levels”.
The report concludes that “the county council as highway authority has a duty to undertake improvements to the highway network under the Highways Act 1980.
“In view of the accident record at the junction, any decision not to implement the approved scheme would present significant reputational risk to the county council as highway authority”.
Cllr Neil Shailer, vice-chair of the highways and transport committee, said: “Road safety is hugely important, and we want to identify schemes where we can make a big difference to our communities within the tight budget we have.
“We welcome these improvements. We understand people want this project delivered and we are working as quickly as we can to install the traffic light scheme at Wheatsheaf crossroads.”
Cllr Steve Criswell, Cambridgeshire County Council member for Somersham and Earith said: “The community has been eager to see improvements to this junction for a long time. It is good to see that a safety solution looks set to finally come to fruition.”