Are we on the road to hell?

IS SUFFOLK grinding to a halt? As civil engineers debate whether East Anglia needs a second motorway, political editor PAUL GEATER opens a series looking at the region’s transport problems – and the effect they have on everyone’s life.

By Paul Geater

TRANSPORT is bad. It's getting worse. Something should be done about it.

They're all comments you hear day in, day out from frustrated travellers – whether they're drivers

frustrated by road congestion, rail passengers frustrated by delays, bus passengers frustrated by peak-time overcrowding, hauliers frustrated by motorway delays, or cyclists angered by thoughtless drivers.

Today, members of the Institute of Civil Engineers were in Ipswich to debate whether East Anglia needed a second motorway – as well as the M11 from London to Cambridge.

They were debating if a second motorway should also go from south to north – possibly following the route of the A12 and A140 – or from east to west, following the line of the A14.

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There were also arguments against further road building – mainly from Steven Joseph of Transport 2000, which campaigns for sustainable transport solutions.

According to experts, congestion in Ipswich is worse than it was a decade ago – but it's much better than it is in other parts of the region.

Cambridge and Norwich are almost completely gridlocked for two hours at the start and finish of every working day.

There may be queues in Ipswich – but gridlock is not a major problem. Traffic still flows relatively freely through the town, even during rush hours.

A journey that might have taken 15 minutes at peak time a decade ago might now take 20 minutes – that's frustrating, but hardly on the same scale as some gridlock.

So what is the solution?

New roads are supported by some – but few building projects provoke as much protest as new roads.

Within the town itself, any new road schemes would almost inevitably involve the demolition of buildings or damage to the environment.

Proposals to build a new east bank link road have fallen foul of environmentalists, even though it would not actually go through Piper's Vale itself.

A major study has been looking at transport links between Ipswich and London – both the A12 and the main rail line. This is considering if improvements need to be made to either of these links, possibly by widening the road or building an extra track beside the rail line.

Its results are due to be published this year – but any major development would be very expensive and it is not clear if the government would be prepared to pay for major investment.

Already some experts believe the London rush-hour is now affecting traffic as far away as Ipswich – that there is effectively a single traffic jam stretching from Piccadilly Circus to Copdock Mill. In the other direction from Ipswich, the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon is a notorious bottleneck, with ten miles of slow-moving traffic.

There have been studies looking at ways of improving this section of the road – but nothing has been decided yet.

Other transport links are equally uncertain. The Hatfield disaster plunged the railways into chaos from which they have not yet fully recovered. With the shape of East Anglian rail franchises still uncertain, it is difficult to make long-term plans for the region's rail services.

The rail lines into Liverpool Street station are among the most congested in the country – any major improvement there would be very expensive.

The East-West rail link which would upgrade the lines from Ipswich to Cambridge and from Bedford to Oxford – and build a new line from Cambridge to Bedford – is still on the drawing board but its progress is very slow.

Today The Evening Star starts a series of features looking at the future of the region's transport.

How do you think transport problems should be overcome? Should we build more roads, should more trains and buses be run, should cars be charged to come into town centres?

Write to: Evening Star transport debate, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

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