MAJOR spending plans worth at least £140m are being drawn up to cut congestion in the east of the New Forest with a new dual carriageway, town centre railway bridge and reopening the Waterside trainline to passengers.
The wide-ranging set of transport proposals was expected to have cleared a hurdle yesterday (Thursday) with approval to proceed with further planning from Hampshire County Council’s highways chief, Cllr Rob Humby.
Funding worth £115m-£140m is being sought from the government to expand the A326 west of Totton into a dual carriageway.
Separate plans are being considered to replace the queue-creating train gates in Junction Road, Totton, with a road bridge.
The Waterside railway line could also be given money to progress to the next stage of potentially reopening to passengers for the first time since 1966, following a lengthy campaign.
The changes in the overarching Waterside Transport Strategy are partly to ease pressure on the roads predicted from the development of Fawley power station with 1,500 homes, including new business space forecast to create about 1,500 jobs.
Yesterday Cllr Humby was recommended in a report to approve the county putting together a strategic outline business case for the Department for Transport (DfT), which will comprise its formal application for up to £140m for the A326 changes.
The preferred improvement schemes have not yet been decided but would likely involve link and junction improvements across 12km of the northern part of the A326.
The report suggests introducing a dual carriageway on two main sections: west of Totton between Michigan Way and Cocklydown Lane, and south-east of Totton between Hounsdown Business Park and Dibden.
HCC is working with the Fawley power station developers to deliver an £8m package of junction improvements on the southern part of the A326 between Main Road (north of Dibden) and the B3053 at Church Lane (Fawley).
A report to Cllr Humby stressed how walking and cycling improvements will be “key components” to the plan, and HCC has held discussions with Fawley oil refinery owner ExxonMobil regarding a new walk/cycle route on its land on the eastern side of the A326.
Any plans will be aligned with the emerging Waterside Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan and tie in with schemes provided as part of Southampton getting £57m of DfT money.
The city was promised the cash in late 2019 to boost transport and cycling in the city and surrounding areas, with approximately £9m set aside for the Waterside.
That will fund bus improvements at three key junctions – in central Totton, Rushington roundabout and near Hounsdown Business Park – and the creation of a continuous cycleway between Eling and Fawley.
The overall strategy will be finalised by next spring for a public consultation, and progressed to a formal plan in the autumn of 2021.
The paper revealed interest in closing the level crossing at Junction Road in Totton and building a bridge. A feasibility study will be completed early next year before a spring 2021 consultation, with ideas including a road crossing at another location or a non-car crossing instead.
The paper also endorsed the business case for the reopening of the Waterside railway line, on which passenger services ceased in 1966. The idea was floated in 2013 but rejected by
HCC on a failed business case. However, the report said its prospects were now much better – partly because a New Forest District Council vision document outlines “significant employment growth potential” on the Waterside.
HCC has embarked on an outline business case for the railway, and the DfT provided £50,000 in grant money for more feasibility work by HCC.
The railway news was met with “absolute delight” by Cllr David Harrison, HCC member for Totton South and Marchwood, a long-time champion of the scheme.
However, the separate A326 improvements needed to go further, according to Cllr Malcolm Wade, who represents Dibden and Hythe.
He said: “There needs to be further support and investment in the Hythe-to-Southampton ferry service, possibly combining with or a separate one from the new development in Fawley.”
The full HCC report can be viewed at https://democracy.hants.gov.uk/documents/s60606/Report.pdf
* This article has been amended from an earlier version which implied work on the level crossing was part of the £140m bid for government funding.