Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Third bridge 'would ease congestion'

Third bridge 'would ease congestion'

A THIRD bridge across the River Thames in Reading would relieve congestion around Henley and Sonning, say experts.

A preliminary report commissioned by Wokingham Borough Council says the £110 million crossing would reduce traffic flows on many South Oxfordshire roads.

However, not all would benefit and there would be increases on some plus a significant rise on two main thoroughfares in Caversham.

The £250,000 study, written by engineering firm WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, suggests there is a strong business case for the bridge and failing to build it could stunt the region’s economic growth.

It doesn’t recommend the project goes ahead but calls for more detailed research.

Both Wokingham and Reading Borough Council want the crossing, which would run across Caversham Lakes from the Thames Valley Business Park in east Reading to the Wyevale garden centre near Playhatch in South Oxfordshire.

The project would need the support of Oxfordshire County Council and South Oxfordshire District Council but they fear it would place excessive pressure on rural roads.

The report, which was funded by the four councils, says the bridge should comprise a two-lane carriageway with junction improvements at both ends.

The experts considered a toll system or a four-lane structure with dedicated bus lanes but concluded the benefits wouldn’t outweigh the higher cost of up to £166.8 million.

They say the project would save the region’s economy £207.8 million in improved journey times over 60 years, representing “high” value for money under Department for Transport guidelines.

The bridge would take just over 6,200 crossings a day, mostly in the morning and evening rush hours. Most drivers would previously have used Reading, Caversham or Sonning bridges, all of which are prone to congestion, while only 123 journeys would be made by heavy goods vehicles.

The impact on South Oxfordshire’s traffic would be “complex” but at peak times there could be up to 130 fewer journeys on the A4130 between Henley Bridge and the A404 roundabout at Burchetts Green, which is notorious for queues on White Hill.

There could be up to several dozen fewer journeys a day on the A4155 between Shiplake and Henley, on Wargrave Road between Henley and Wargrave, on the A4130 between Henley, Bix and Nettlebed and on the B481 between Nettlebed, Highmoor and Rotherfield Greys. The biggest improvements would be on the B478 through Sonning, which includes the village’s single-lane bridge, and a section of Henley Road between the Playhatch roundabout and the junction of Henley Road and Caversham Park Road.

The latter could see a decrease of more than 500 trips during each rush hour while journeys through Sonning could fall by more than 200. However, traffic on the western half of Henley Road and Prospect Street in Caversham and the entirety of Caversham Park Road could increase by a couple of hundred journeys.

There could be smaller increases on Greys Road between Henley and Rotherfield Greys, on Peppard Road between Emmer Green and Sonning Common, on the A4074 between Woodcote and Gallowstree Common and on various roads around Dunsden, Binfield Heath and Crowsley. The consultants say drivers would not be tempted to use South Oxfordshire as a “rat run” between the M4 at Reading and the M40 at Lewknor.

Henley MP John Howell, who is part of a group of councillors, MPs and business leaders investigating the project, said: “Publication of the report has given rise to a flurry of concern and much local assessment.

“I fear it is now clear from the work done to date that there is a business case for an additional bridge. This does not necessarily mean that there will be a new bridge and there would be many more stages to go through with full public consultation and much more detailed work to come.

“Evidence demonstrates that there is a strategic outline business case and that there is seen to be a transport business case for it.

“Further work is needed to understand the traffic impacts, both positive and negative, particularly on South Oxfordshire. All of this work will require funding so the next step is to look at our options. Application for government funding has not been successful and officers will need to research external opportunities.”

David Bartholomew, who is county councillor for Sonning Common, Binfield Heath, Bix, Dunsden, Sonning Eye, Highmoor Parish, Rotherfield Greys, Peppard and Shiplake, said: “The enthusiasm and vigour for the bridge comes very much from Berkshire whereas Oxfordshire is concerned and doesn’t want Berkshire’s traffic problems shunted our way.

“This report exists to argue the case for the bridge, not assess it neutrally. There’s much data but the conclusions aren’t very substantive. You can’t accurately predict how people will behave in the face of these things and I’ve never known a road to be built without traffic increasing.”

Reading East MP Matt Rodda, whose constituency includes Caversham and Emmer Green, is in favour of the project.

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