Ambitious plans to create a multi-million pound Coastal Highway in Lincolnshire are on track - and a long-awaited bypass for Horncastle has been described as the most ‘significant part’ of the entire project.
The Coastal Highway will involve an upgrade of the A158 from Lincoln to Skegness and is designed to end years of jams, attract more visitors and deliver a massive boost to the regional economy.
Apart from generating new business growth on the coast and inland, the improved link will also open up the Wolds to more tourism.
Richard Davies, Executive Councillor for Highways at Lincolnshire County Council, delivered an update on the project at a meeting of Horncastle Town Council last Tuesday.
Coun Davies stressed the project did not not involve a complete new road from Lincoln to Skegness but, instead, a series of schemes targeting specific traffic hot-spots, including Horncastle, Wragby, Langton and other locations.
He revealed that thanks to feasibility work already carried out on those schemes, the project now meets the criteria for cash from the government’s bypass fund.
Coun Davies said more engagement sessions would be held with local councils and community groups in the comning momnths but added an outline plan for the entire project could be finalised by the end of the year.
He confirmed the county council hoped to start submitting applications for funding next year.
Coun Davies admitted the process could mean it is another 10-15 years before upgrades are completed - including the Horncastle bypass.
Coun Davies said improving the route to the coast was a key part of the Conservative manifesto going into the last county elections.
He dismissed claims at the town council meeting that the bypass would ‘never happen’ and said the authority was determined to deliver on that election pledge.
Coun Davies confirmed the county council favoured a bypass to the south of Horncastle although he stressed a route was one of the many key elements that had to be finalised.
Coun Davies told town councillors and residents: “We feel we’re in a really good place to go to government and say we need a substantial amount of cash to make this happen.
“There is the bypass fund. We were successful in getting the A158 into the major road network plan and that means the road is applicable for this fund. Prior to the work, it would not have been the case.
“When you look at the critera, Horncastle is spot on.
“We’ve done a series of engagements and consultations looking into designing a series of schemes all along the route.
“Horncastle is the most significant of those schemes.
“The junction (of the A158/A153) is over capacity and no amount of reconfiguration is going to solve it.
“The solution is to remove the traffic that doesn’t want to be in Horncastle and take it out of the town - a bypass.”
Coun Davies initially stated the county council favoured a a ‘southern’ route but when questioned by a resident, he admitted nothing had been ruled in - or out.
Coun Davies added: “It could be north, it could be south. There is a thinking south could be best.
“It may come in phases. You might find phase one is between the A158 (west of Horncastle) and the A153 (south of Horncastle)
“We are working hard to come up with a scheme.
“We are putting together a business case...a series of feasibilty studies for places like Wragby, Langtoft and Horncastle.
“We are looking at what the options are. What are the issues? What are the solutions?
“We have and will be engaging with community groups and councils on a series of improvements.
“It’s not going to be one long road.
“Once everything is in place, we can look at costs which we will then present to government.
“Hopefully, by the end of year, we will know what the key objectives will be and we can build them up into individual plans to submit.”
Coun Davies said the government was in the process of finalising the criteria for the bypass fund.
He explained: “Once that is in place we will start bidding.
“It could well take two-to-three years to design the road. There’s who owns the land, flooding risk, tying it into the Local Plan...we need to go through the whole process.
“It could be 10-15 years but there is a real commitment to make this happen.”
Coun Davies told the meeting that while the junction of the A158 and the A153 in Horncastle was the ‘biggest problem,’ it was just one of several hot-spots.
He was supported by Mel Green, a county council highways officer who is in charge of traffic lights.
Mr Green said various changes to the sequence of lights at the A158/153 junction had been carried out - without any improvement to the flow of traffic.
He said apart from the volume of traffic, vehicles turning into Boston Road - and onto the A158 - added to the problem.
Mr Green and Coun Davies admitted they were aware of long-standing complaints about jams on Boston Road (A153) and the A158 - especially in the peak summer months with people heading to the coast.
Surveys had also highlighted an increase in HGV traffic.
One resident told Coun Davies the county council should forget about a bypass and consider putting in a roundabout at the junction instead. The resident said the delays were caused by the traffic lights and stressed a roundabout would improve the flow of traffic.
He added: “Put a small roundabout in the middle of junction and I am pretty sure that Boston Road traffic would move. It is never going to be great but it would move better than now.
“The main thing is there is no money to build a bypass. You know it and I know it.
“This would cost a few thousands pounds - not millions.”