Construction start announced for delayed A14 upgrade

Contractors are expected to begin work on the long awaited A14 upgrade in East Anglia later this year after Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin signed off a development consent order for the circa £1.5bn project.

A Costain/Skanska joint venture will start environmental mitigation work required for two sections of the 21 mile project worth £600m, widening the A1 over a distance of three miles and building a new 12 mile dual three lane bypass to the south of Huntingdon. Balfour Beatty/Carillion will begin preliminary work for £300m of widening of the existing A14 to dual three and dual four lanes over a distance of approximately 10 miles up to where the A14 meets the M11 west of Cambridge.

A fourth major contract is due to be tendered in 2019, for downgrading and rebuilding 13 miles of the existing A14, including demolition of a large viaduct through Huntingdon, to provide a principal county link road for Huntingdon and the surrounding area.

The A14 upgrade was originally planned in the early 2000s. A project larger in scope valued at the time at around £1.2bn was included in the Highways Agency's programme of works before it was scrapped as part of the 2010 comprehensive spending review of the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition government. The upgrade was then resurrected with government exploring during 2012/13 whether the scheme's cost could be met by tolling all or part of the route between Cambridge and the A1. Plans to implement tolls were dropped after an Atkins report concluded that a relatively short stretch of tolled road would be impractical, partly due to high operational costs, and that the charges would push too much traffic onto smaller, local alternative roads.

The new A14 upgrade is valued at £1.3bn to £1.8bn.

Procurement of contracts has also met difficulty since starting in 2014. The scheme was classified as 'complex infrastructure', so given special treatment. Contracts were procured last year through the new Highways England's 'light touch' Collaborative Delivery Framework (CDF), but bidders that had prequalified by winning places on the CDF still had to go through substantial secondary bidding as part of the A14 procurement.

Sources at Tier 1 suppliers used the A14 bidding process as example of how the HE's CDF procurement process was failing in its aim to be 'light touch' and costing a lot for relatively little overall gain. 

A detailed design contract worth £35.5m was awarded to an Atkins CH2M joint venture in May last year. Contractors were to be appointed to give design support ahead of statutory procedures, with a view to the same firms building the project later if it went ahead. Costain/Skanska was awarded the two contracts for the most westerly end of the scheme. But all bids for the A14 widening in the east were rejected.

At the time, the HE's director for complex infrastructure, Chris Taylor, said that all bidders had failed to grasp HE's requirement for greater consideration of how local communities would be treated and involved in the works, and how designs would consider the safety of future maintenance. Balfour Beatty/Carillion was awarded the contract after a tender rerun in September last year.

Following McLoughlin's decision, the A14 project is now in a statutory six week challenge period. If it passes that unchallenged, work will start in the autumn. Chris Taylor said: "This is great news for everyone who uses the A14 through Cambridgeshire, from local residents and businesses to national and international haulage companies. The scheme will provide much needed additional capacity to improve journey times and safety.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the time to give their views. All the input received has helped us shape the scheme. We are keen to keep the momentum going and will get preparations for construction underway as soon as possible after the end of the six week statutory challenge period."