Why were roads brought to standstill?

TWO of East Anglia's busiest roads slid to a halt in the face of the fiercest snowstorm for a generation - despite promises highway bosses had learned the lessons of ten months ago.

Paul Geater

TWO of East Anglia's busiest roads slid to a halt in the face of the fiercest snowstorm for a generation - despite promises highway bosses had learned the lessons of ten months ago.

The A12 between Ipswich and Colchester ground to a complete halt after lorries became stuck on the hill between Stratford St Mary and Ardleigh.

And the A14 eastbound became impassable after vehicles were unable to get any grip on the approach to the Orwell Bridge.

The government's Highways Agency is responsible for keeping traffic moving on trunk roads, and said its gritters were unable to get out and do their work because of congestion problems.

However, it seems certain that they will have to explain the problems to their bosses in Whitehall - including junior transport minister and Ipswich MP Chris Mole.

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The weather could not have come as a surprise - as early as Monday of this week there was a long-range warning of heavy snow on Thursday night and Friday.

By Thursday morning the Met Office had firmed this up and was talking about a 60 per cent chance of major disruption from 9pm and by the lunchtime they were warning that the bad weather would start by 6pm - a forecast which turned out to be devastatingly accurate.

South east Suffolk suffered more serious disruption than any other part of the UK, although the whole of the south east of England was affected by the snowfall.

On the A12 between Copdock and Colchester traffic came to a halt because vehicles were unable to get over the hills on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Some motorists were trapped in their vehicles all night - and other routes south of Ipswich were also very difficult. It took drivers three hours to get from the town to Manningtree.

The A14 eastbound was closed for several hours on Thursday night with drivers trying to find alternative routes through Ipswich town centre.

They were also mixing with determined late-night shoppers, a mixture which helped reduce most traffic in the town centre to a crawl.

Back in February the government and county councils had an inquiry after snow caused huge problems on roads across the country.

There were promises that lessons had been learned.

This time there were no problems with the amount of salt and grit available - the issue seems to have been getting it to the right place at the right time.

Highways Agency officials said there was not enough traffic churning up the gritted snow - and that it was not possible to get their gritting lorries to the right place because of congestion on the roads.

But they now seem certain to be asked to look at other ways of getting the grit on the road surface - possibly from roadside dumps that could be accessed by workers with shovels.