Upgrading the A14: delivering improvements on a grand scale

24 October 2017

By Richard Coates, Deputy Director, Highways.

Richard CoatesThe Government has committed to investing £15 billion on the motorways and major A roads in England between 2015-16 and 2020-21 and it is Highways England’s job to deliver this investment.

By far its biggest single project currently in construction, is the£1.5 billion upgrading of the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme The Office of Rail and Road visited the scheme this month to view the progress so far.

The 21 mile stretch of dual carriageway between Cambridge and Huntingdon has been a congestion blackspot for many years. Around 85,000 vehicles use the route every day – and about a quarter of these are heavy goods vehicles, carrying freight from East Coast ports such as Felixstowe to East Anglia, the Midlands and beyond.

The scheme isn’t new. It’s been in and out of road investment programmes since 1989. But site work finally got underway in November 2016 and the sheer scale of the scheme is impressive.

We saw work progressing on a new 12 mile bypass to the south of Huntingdon and a 750m viaduct crossing of the River Great Ouse; preparations were being made for widening part of the existing A14, and major junction improvement works where the A14, M11 and A428 meet. We also got a sense for the resources and logistics involved – roughly 2,000 people work on the project, and 10 million cubic metres of earth will be moved during 2017 and 2018.

Unsurprisingly, it’s very complex. Workers have to operate safely alongside a busy road and major utilities have to be diverted. And the new bypass goes over the East Coast Mainline – so working closely with Network Rail is essential. All this creates challenges in coordinating the programme. We heard how construction work has been brought forward on a new bridge carrying the A1198 over the bypass to accelerate other works.

Given the size and complexity of the scheme, Highways England is drawing on four main contractors,  and many suppliers to deliver the work. But, despite the number of organisations involved, it is clear that they work as one strong, committed team.

A keen focus on health and safety is immediately apparent, which has so far limited reported incidents to just one to date. But the team knows that there’s no room for complacency – continued focus will be needed as the scheme progresses.

The size of the project has brought real challenges and inspired innovative thinking and sharing of best practice. We heard how the project team has set up a concrete batching facility to build key components of the bridges offsite – and more efficiently. We were also told how sharing safety practices has led to higher standards being adopted by all. These, and other examples, provide important learning for delivery of future schemes.

We look forward to seeing continued progress with the scheme – which is scheduled to open for traffic in December 2020.