Brainchild that grew into a monster

SEVEN days in the life of the A14 has bought with it yet more tragedy. Last Wednesday's accident near Claydon claimed the life of a soldier and took the toll of deaths on the Suffolk stretch of the road since January 1999 to 27.

By Nick Richards

SEVEN days in the life of the A14 has bought with it yet more tragedy. Last Wednesday's accident near Claydon claimed the life of a soldier and took the toll of deaths on the Suffolk stretch of the road since January 1999 to 27.

In the first part of a major Evening Star investigation into the road, NICK RICHARDS looks at the Felixstowe to Copdock stretch of the A14 and speaks to former Ipswich MP Ken Weetch, who predicted we would have big traffic problems back in the 1970s.

WEDNESDAY'S accident near Claydon took most of the headlines on the A14 this week, but there were further incidents on this troubled road which could have delivered yet more fatalities.

On the 14-mile Felixstowe to Copdock stretch, accidents are particularly common and the most recent incidents illustrate the main issue: too much traffic on the road causing too many problems.

Back in the 1970's the decision was taken to re-route heavy traffic away from Ipswich town centre and send yet more heavy lorries on to this busy stretch of road.

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But, according to former Ipswich MP Ken Weetch, who campaigned against the build up of traffic levels more than a generation ago, there are lessons that could still be learnt to quell the amount of traffic on this stretch.

Mr Weetch, who was Labour MP between 1974 and 1987 foresaw problems with the rapid promotion of Felixstowe as a major port in East Anglia, knowing it would impact heavily on Suffolk's roads.

Speaking from his Ipswich home, Mr Weetch said: "I knew traffic would expand but to what level I could not have imagined.

"My view was that Felixstowe was expanding and it was important to build sufficient roads. The focus was being shifted from west to east – from ports such as Liverpool to Felixstowe.

"I thought back then that to see Felixstowe expand at such a rate was unhealthy. But I was a voice in the wilderness and all the eggs were put in one transport basket – and that's not just hindsight. It was on the parliamentary record. I knew if we had an inflation of traffic we would have problems."

Fatalities on this stretch of the road are remarkably rare with just one since January 1999. This occurred six days after Easter Sunday last year when a lorry toppled over on the dock spur roundabout at Felixstowe crushing Martin O'Sullivan to death as he drove his BMW on the inside lane.

Lorry traffic on the A14 heading for Felixstowe has been the major bugbear of many motorists who use the road for the last thirty years.

Just eight days ago a Felixstowe family narrowly escaped death when their stationary van was left a crumpled wreck after a juggernaut smashed into it near the Seven Hills interchange.

Back near the start of that decade, in 1971, Felixstowe handled 330,000 loads of cargo, which was estimated at increasing to 850,000 by 1977, one year after the Valley Road accident.

But this figure has magnified eight-fold and now the Port of Felixstowe handles 2.7 million loads per year – conveyed along the A14 annually on 2 million lorries.

Some 30,000 vehicles a day use the Felixstowe peninsula section of the A14 – more than one sixth of them are lorries creating major tailback problems when there are accidents on this stretch.

On Thursday a car accident near Nacton created a two-mile tailback on the road – but just look at the number of lorries in the picture (above/below)

Thirty years ago the solution seemed simple – build a bypass and put take the increasing volume of traffic around it and away from the town centre.

But the volume of traffic has increased enormously – certainly more than anyone expected.

Back in 1972, just before it was announced the bypass would be built, Ipswich MP Ernie Money, asked the Government to save East Anglia from becoming a juggernaut country.

He appealed to shift some of the loads off of the roads and on to the railways because the effect of already crowded roads were being felt.

In a Department of the Environment proposal report in February 1974, Ipswich's traffic problem was highlighted the problem but accidents on the road continued through the decade, reaching a horrific summit on a late summer afternoon in 1976.

Primrose Cook had just collected her five-year-old son David from school and they were walking along the pavement near their home in Valley Road, Ipswich shortly before 4pm on September 14, 1976.

As they neared their home, an articulated lorry travelling from Felixstowe crossed from the other side of the road, mounted the pavement and crushed them both to death.

The day after the accident, Ipswich MP Ken Weetch visited the scene and said it would spur him on to calling for an Ipswich bypass from the Minister of Transport.

"I will take a monster petition with blood on it" said Mr Weetch "I honestly feel quite sick".

While visiting the scene he added: "For months now everytime I've picked up my paper I have anticipated headlines such this…I'm going to present the Minister with the full details of yesterday's tragedy and urge him to strain every resource to speed the thing up and get these heavy juggernauts off of roads like this."

Almost 26 years to the day of the Valley Road accident, Mr Weetch said he still had terrible memories of that fateful day.

"The accident on Valley Road was the worst day of my political life" he said.

"I was out of town when I was told about it and as soon as I came back to Ipswich I went to the accident site.

"The incident was something of a crisis point and unless something was done or there was a radical improvement, there would be more accidents.

"But, there was general complacency after the accident – nobody seemed that bothered.

"Around 1972-72 the traffic problem around Ipswich was a nightmare with heavy juggernauts. Roads like Wherstead Road and Ranelagh Road were full of traffic – it was so bad it would rattle the china in the cabinet.

"Accidents happened – it was rather like a mincing machine and at certain periods people fell into it. The road through Ipswich was inadequate but I think the building of the bypass was simply to give relief where the shoe pinched and at that time, the shoe pinched in Ipswich.

"The short term view was to get it out of town. What wasn't taken into account, even by me, was the rise in trade – hence the trouble."