Almost simultaneously to the start of the Wolvercote Roundabout improvement works Swindon Borough Council started working on one of the town’s major roundabouts, the Greenbridge one. To all intent and purpose it’s a very similar layout to the Wolvercote one, see picture, and the cost is more or less the same (£4m ca for Greenbridge and £9m for two roundabouts in Oxford).
But there is a huge difference. If you travel into Swindon at rush hour you’d barely be affected by the works. Lanes have been left open in all directions and repairs proceed at lightening speed. As early as 7 am there will be workmen beavering away and progress is noticeable from one day to the next.
Try travelling at rush hour using Wolvercote roundabout… and as for work progress many people have taken the trouble to write to the Council and to the local papers describing the speed of work as an embarrassment.
Before you ask, both authorities are Tory led , so there is no difference in their political make up either. When it comes to transport infrastructure we must be down at the bottom of the pile. People often complain to us of how poorly maintained roads are once they get into Oxfordshire, as for buses and other public transport we all know well the kind of predicament we are in.
OCC’s plan is a hybrid. It proposes three miles of useful bus lane from Wolvercote to Eynsham and three miles of destructive dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green. The bus lane is £12 million; the dual carriageway is £42 million.
OCC tell me that dualling a road costs about twice as much per mile as adding a bus lane on each side. The huge difference is because dual carriageways are built to much more elaborate and exacting standards.
Therefore OCC’s proposal is about £21 million more than building bus lanes in both directions all the way between Shores Green and Duke’s Cut.
Almost all road expansion for at least the last five or six decades has increased traffic, and a Shores Green – Eynsham dual carriageway would do exactly the same. OCC refuses to believe it. It refuses to see that more road space will attract more car use.
OCC’s proposal does not satisfy the motor lobby. That lobby is still calling for the whole route to be dualled. Dualling between Shores Green and Eynsham will encourage demand to dual between Eynsham and Wolvercote, which in turn would require a “tin hat” bypass through the Kidlington Gap.
OCC’s only environmental consideration seems to be sensitive habitats in the area of Oxford Meadows. That was why it rejects dualling east of Eynsham but wants to dual west of Eynsham.
CO2 reduction and overall modal shift seemed to rate low on their priorities. I have seen no evidence from OCC that its A40 scheme is radical enough to fulfil either the Climate Change Act 2008 or the UK’s COP21 commitments. Instead OCC seems to be trying to placate car-dependent West Oxfordshire voters – and Witney MP David Cameron –by giving them a big new road.
Poor value for bus users
OCC’s bus lane proposal is hamstrung by its assumption that widening the bridges over the railway and canal would be too expensive. It therefore leaves the first half mile west of Wolvercote roundabout unimproved, with no bus lanes. That means half a mile of, potentially, daily car queues in which buses would still get stuck.
OCC says it would try to mitigate this with bus gates. I asked her where these would be and how they would help. She said they had not decided, and could give no more details.
I am no civil engineer. But does OCC pretend that widening the bridges to extend the bus lanes another half mile would cost more than £21 million?
Is the proposed hybrid scheme cheaper than bus lanes all the way between Shores Green and Wolvercote roundabout, including widening the bridges? I doubt it.
Of course Bus Users Oxford welcomes three miles of new bus lane on the A40. Eastbound from Eynsham to Duke’s Cut had already been decided upon; what this scheme would add is a westbound bus lane from Duke’s Cut to Eynsham. But the scheme is seriously compromised by both the missing half mile between Wolvercote and Duke’s Cut and the three miles of dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green.
OCC’s current proposal for the A40 is not the most environmental option. It is not even the most affordable option. And it is certainly not radical enough to be called a solution.