Business community backs A1 plan for new 50mph stretch

Dropping the speed limit to 50mph would be a small price to pay to widen the A1 and improve connectivity, the North East business community believe

The A184 Junction of A1 which is set for improvements
The A184 Junction of A1 which is set for improvements

The North East business community is getting behind proposals to narrow roads on the A1 to deliver a three-lane system on the main artery road.

Newcastle City Council’s planners are in discussions with officials at the Department for Transport over a £100m A1 improvement plan which would see a stretch of the road – from the River Tyne up to North Brunton – given an extra lane on each side, creating three lanes in each direction.

The cost of actually widening the road could cost as much as £1.7bn, promping city planners to explore options to make existing lanes narrower, using the central reservation to create extra space.

Such a move would mean motorists would have to drive through the section at a slower, 50mph limit, yet the North East Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, among others, said the lowering of the speed limit would be a small price to pay to win a partial victory in the long-running battle to improve the A1.

Last month, more than 400 members of the Institute of Directors (IoD) who took part in a North East study voted transport links and connectivity as their number one concern.

As a result, Graham Robb, chairman of IoD North East, welcomed the A1 plan.

He said: “Members of the IoD in the North East rank transport connectivity as their number one issue, so a 50mph limit seems a price worth paying if it results in improved traffic flow and road capacity.”

Rachel Turnbull, Chief Executive of TT2 Limited, the company which operates the Tyne Tunnels, agreed, saying: “In terms of increasing the capacity on the North East infrastructure, there is merit in these proposals, because they support regional growth.

“Additionally, the 50mph limit would help traffic flow by creating consistency of speed.”

Penny Marshall, Interim Regional Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) North East is also in agreement.

She said: “This is a great proposal, because, although it often may not feel like it, reducing the speed limit to 50mph significantly increases the throughput of traffic. This happens because it cuts out much of the slowing down and speeding up which ends up impeding the flow of vehicles. Reducing the speed limit also improves safety and makes it possible to introduce narrow lanes.

“The 50mph limit around the Gateshead area of the A1 has worked very well. However, the downside is that when there is not much traffic, people can become frustrated and are tempted to ignore the speed restriction, so an even better solution would be to move to three lanes as planned, but introduce a variable speed limit.”

Meanwhile, Mark Stephenson, policy and research manager at the North East Chamber of Commerce added: “The need to improve sections of the A1 is well documented and this stretch of road can be a real congestion black spot on our dual carriageway network.

While slowing traffic by 20mph may sound like we’re removing one frustrating delay to replace it with another, in reality it will ease the movement of vehicles on this busy stretch.”

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