The A66 from Penrith to Scotch Corner will be fully open to traffic as a complete dual carriageway by the end the decade, county councillors have been told.
A high level update on progress being made to deliver the £1 billion A66 dual carriageway upgrade was given at a meeting of Eden’s local committee last week.
A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project director Brian Williams, of Highways England, said improvements to complete the 50-mile stretch of dual carriageway between Penrith and Scotch Corner were now going to be delivered on a timescale far quicker than originally envisaged.
Previously, he said, work was looking to start in 2025, with an open traffic date of March, 2035.
“Now what we have proposed, and what is being supported, is a start of works on the A66 in January 2024, and an open for traffic date, five years later, in January 2029,” said Mr Williams.
He said that was a significant improvement on the previous position, both in terms of bring the start of works forward, but also they have halved the actual construction period from 10 years to five years.
“I won’t go into the politics of that, but I think you can probably see the rationale for wanting to do that, both in terms of levelling up, especially in the north, but ultimately it’s about providing an effective service to our customers to allow them to go about their day-to-day business,” said Mr Williams.
He added: “We have got authority now to take us through to the end of our development phase, so we have actually got an authorised spend of circa £50 million, which will take us through the next three years.”
Highways England will then have to go back to the Department for Transport for the construction phase funding, which makes up the bulk of the £1 billion project.
Mr Williams said it was “one of the largest and most significant investments in the north” and will provide a more reliable, more resilient and safe journey for users of the A66.
“We are now undertaking ground investigations and other environmental assessments, which are commencing as of next week in some form, but they will continue throughout the year,” said Mr Williams.
In May and June, a statutory consultation is set to be convened, which follows on from the non-statutory consultation which took place about 18 months ago.
“Previously, what we did was manage to set up meetings where people could engage with us one-to-one in a physical sense, but this is probably going to be a little more difficult because of the current constraints around proximity as a consequence of COVID.
“So we are actually working on a dual approach, one is a virtual, digital engagement, but with the opportunity also to provide physical interaction,” said Mr Williams.
It is then hoped a development consent order application can be submitted by February 2022.
Phil Dew (Con, Kirkby Stephen), chairman of the Eden local committee, said the project had great significance for the district, both in terms of economic growth and improved connectivity.