CONSTRUCTION on a £135million road scheme to ease congestion and boost access to and from the South West is underway.

The upgrade to the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester, due for completion by spring 2024, will provide a major boost to the region's economy, improving local journeys and making roads safer.

A ceremony today (Friday, October 1) marked the start of the works, which will create a high quality, dual carriageway on this congested stretch of the A303.

The multi-million-pound major project is managed by National Highways and funded by the Department for Transport as part of the Road Investment Strategy.

Somerset County Gazette:

David Warburton MP, Hannah Sanderson, and Marcus Fysh MP at the start of works ceremony on the A303 at Sparkford.

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “We’ve provided £135 million to make this scheme a reality, and this is a fantastic moment for the South West as works get underway.

“Not only will it enhance capacity, cut journey times and improve road safety, but as we continue to build back better from the pandemic this project will provide a real boost to the local economy in Somerset and the surrounding region – creating jobs, improving access to housing and opening the region up to the rest of the country.”

Hannah Sanderson, Programme Manager for National Highways, said: “We are really pleased that we are now starting this long-awaited project in earnest.

“The scheme is incredibly important for Somerset’s future, vital to the A303/A358 corridor and it’s exciting that work is finally underway.

“The three new miles of dual carriageway will support economic growth and facilitate a growth in jobs and housing by creating a free-flowing and reliable connection between the South East and South West.

“It will also tackle a long-standing bottleneck, reduce journey times to the South West and improve traffic flows in that area at peak times and during peak seasons.”

Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development Cllr David Hall said: “It’s really satisfying to see work commence on this vital scheme, which is so important for Somerset’s economy and future growth.

“We’ve worked really had to promote the need for this investment and we’re delighted to be supporting National Highways as they deliver these much-needed improvements.”

On an average day, the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester carries 23,500 vehicles, but numbers increase significantly in the summer, particularly at weekends, making journeys unreliable and unpredictable.

With construction now officially underway, the upgrade is scheduled to be open to traffic in spring 2024 and you can find out more about the scheme and the construction process on a virtual exhibition which you can access HERE.

The upgrade aims to:

  • improve the capacity of the road to reduce delays and queues that occur during peak hours and at key times of the year i.e. the height of summer;
  • support economic growth, facilitating growth in jobs and housing by providing a free-flowing and reliable connection between the South East and the South West;
  • make the road safer, by providing additional capacity and reducing driver stress. We’ll make routes safer for pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders in the area;
  • protect the environment and look for opportunities to improve it, minimising any unnecessary impact of the scheme on the surrounding natural and historic environment and landscape;
  • work with local communities to reduce the impact of the road and look for ways to improve local peoples’ quality of life;
  • make journey times more reliable and resilient; by providing more capacity it will become easier to manage traffic when incidents occur.

Current work is all about preparing the ground for construction, with traffic management not planned until early next year and minimal disruption to 2021 holiday traffic, especially around Christmas.

Main construction work will start in 2022, with closures kept to a minimum throughout the scheme.

Further along the A303/A358 corridor, a consultation will be launching on the A358 on October 12, with National Highways welcoming your views on the new designs.