HIGHWAY chiefs have been urged to address chronic congestion on the A40 before thousands of new homes bring it to a complete standstill.

This week it was revealed 1,000 extra houses will be built in West Oxfordshire, taking the total number to be built in the district to 5,500 before 2029.

The majority of homes will be built close to the major commuter route.

In Oxford, A40 traffic concerns have also resurfaced on plans for 1,200-homes at Barton West and proposals for 3,000 jobs and 200 homes at the Northern Gateway site close to the Pear Tree roundabout.

In both cases, highways authority Oxfordshire County Council and planning authority Oxford City Council have struggled to agree a solution.

Eynsham is one of the communities affected by the A40 traffic.

Its parish council chairman, Gordon Beach, said further development would increase pressure on the road and lead to more motorists using the village as a rat run.

He added: “The queue on the A40 in the morning is more or less from the roundabout on the outskirts of Oxford all the way back nearly to the dual carriageway at Witney.

“Before new homes are built, supporting infrastructure should be looked at. It is all about joined-up thinking.”

He said the A40 should be made a dual carriage way along its entire length.

County councillor for Witney West Steve Hayward, who is also a haulier, said: “Duelling the A40 was in the plan up until 1997, when the then Government cancelled it.

“Since then about 3,000 more houses have been built along the A40 corridor and it looks now like in the next 10 to 15 years another 3,000 houses will be built along that corridor.

“Most of these new houses will potentially be heading to Oxford for work. It is going to be gridlocked.

“The knock-on effect is not just on the A40 because everywhere people will be seeking alternative routes, which means more cars in Long Hanborough, Eynsham, Cassington and Woodstock.

“The dualling of the A40 needs to be dusted off and enacted, but it needed to be done 15 years ago.”

But Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said the answer was not to add extra lanes to the A40, because wider, faster roads would attract more drivers, not cut down numbers.

He said: “It’s the M25 effect. The A40 past Witney is already a dual carriageway, so where do you draw the line?

“The key thing is we need to make sure any development coming forward has appropriate economic development close by so commuting can be avoided.

“We recognise the A40 is an issue not just in West Oxfordshire, but in Oxford, and working with the Local Enterprise Partnership, we will put in a bid for any additional government funding which becomes available.”

He said the council was trying to minimise the impact of new development by withholding support for schemes which did not address transport impacts.

He said: “The Northern Gateway scheme has been deferred until 2018 on the basis that no traffic solution can be found.”

Oxford City Council leader Bob Price said: “The A40 has been discussed for as long as I can remember, which is 40 years in Oxford.

“Over the years, as traffic volumes have increased, it has become more of a problem.

“Congestion at the Wolvercote and Banbury Road roundabouts have been a major constraint, as have the lights at Cassington, so they all need to be sorted out – that’s where the first focus has to be.

West Oxfordshire District Council cabinet member for strategic planning Warwick Robinson said the council’s local plan included employment land at both Witney and Carterton.

He added: “The concept is not that everyone automatically drives up and down the A40 or goes to Swindon to work.

“Highways is a county matter and we have been petitioning them for the last 30 years, highlighting the work that needs to be done.”

Martin & Co Letting Agents director Andrew Ramsay said: “We have got a lot of tenants who live in Witney and commute to Oxford.

“They move to Witney because of rental prices and because it is a nice place to live.”

An EXPERT’s OPINION by Peter Headicar,  Reader in Transport Planning at Oxford Brookes University

TRAFFIC conditions in central Oxfordshire are bad not just because of the growth in population and car ownership but because of the imbalance between where major new housing has been built (in the ‘country towns’) and where jobs and services are concentrated (in and around Oxford City).  

In recent decades there has been scant investment to cater for the burgeoning flows which result, neither in road improvements nor (more sensibly) in attractive public transport alternatives. 

There is no such thing as a free lunch and the traffic queues which occupy the A40 west of Oxford for much of the day are a particularly unfortunate example.  

People living in the growing towns of Witney and Carterton have to make use of a single carriageway road built in the 1930s.  

If the planned Northern Gateway business park goes ahead still more motorists will be drawn on to this entirely inadequate road.

What is to be done?   The sort of strategy which has been followed in Oxford City since the 1970s now needs to be reconfigured on a wider scale to reflect changed travel patterns.  Park and Ride car parks should be built on the outskirts of Witney and Eynsham and fast public transport links provided to the city. 

The cheap and cheerful way of doing this would be to restore the A40 to its original three-lane layout with one of them reserved as a ‘no car’ lane on the approaches to the junction bottlenecks. Much better would be to convert the former Witney railway formation to a rapid transit route – either as a busway (as recently opened in Cambridgeshire) or light rail (as in many continental cities).   But this is very unlikely given the current funding regime in the UK. 

The ‘win-win’ solution would be to introduce some form of charging scheme which regulated traffic at peak times to free-flow conditions and provided the revenue to fund the transit alternative. 

People may baulk at this but if they totted up the time and money currently spent sitting in those traffic queues it might not seem such a bad idea!