Last week, on 12 September 2018, the Government announced its preferred corridor for the route of the Expressway between Junction 13 of the M1 at Milton Keynes and Oxford. Highways England had been asked by the Government to explore the case for a fast, high-quality road link to better connect Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. Key to this project is closing a 30 mile gap in the national strategic road network between the M1 at Milton Keynes and the M40 east of Oxford.
This first phase of the project involved working with local councils, the business community and other stakeholders in ‘England’s Economic Heartland’ to understand which of the proposed corridors should be taken forward for further development.
Using analytical and evidence-based reviews, Corridor B was identified as the best performing option in terms of supporting strategic transformational growth, regeneration and redevelopment. The general public has yet to be consulted.
The Expressway would eventually link Cambridge with Oxford and would form a continuous, high quality road and complete a missing link in the national network. As such the whole route would likely have a new road number throughout – Axx (M).
The Economic Case for a new Expressway
Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge are all growing fast in a region renowned for innovation and where there are plans for a substantial increase in jobs and housing. Yet east-west transport connections suffer from issues such as congestion, slow speeds and poor reliability. It is easier to travel into London from the three cities than go from one to the other as there is no single route from end to end. This creates a huge barrier and risk to future growth, while a housing shortfall inhibits further investment.
Traffic flows along the motorway route linking Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge from the M4/A34 at Chieveley to the M11 are forecast to increase by 32 to 40% by 2035. Without improvements to infrastructure, congestion along the corridor is expected to become worse.
Once complete, the new road is expected to take up to 40 minutes off journeys between M4 J13 and the M1 J13. Both Oxford and Cambridge would be within a 45-minute drive of Milton Keynes.
The new road creates job opportunities for those living locally while stimulating housing growth and reducing costs for businesses. It would also unlock new areas of growth in areas including Aylesbury Vale, Milton Keynes, Bedford, St Neots and Cambourne as well as around the A428.
There are a number of synergies with the East West Rail scheme but also some differences. Notably the Western Section of EWR uses existing or mothballed tracks between Oxford, Bicester, Bletchley and Bedford whereas the Expressway routing between the M1 and Oxford / Abingdon is still to be agreed. Conversely the Central Section of EWR between Bedford and Cambridge will involve a new route. The Expressway from Cambridge to the M1 uses the existing A428, A1 and A421 and is already mostly dualled. Studies for both schemes used common advisors Savills, Jacobs, KPMG as far as possible.
Consultation and Construction
Option B, which is broadly aligned with the proposed East-West Rail route starting at Abingdon and linking Oxford to the south of Milton Keynes via Winslow. Detailed route analysis of two corridors will be undertaken over the coming 12 months to summer 2019. These are Corridor B1 – passing to the west of Oxford; and Corridor B3 – passing to the east of Oxford.
The preferred route could be announced in 2020 with construction starting in 2025. Subject to obtaining the necessary consents, the road itself could be completed by 2030.