David Cameron has said the Government is “committed” to ending the traffic nightmare on the A303 cross-country road between the South West and London.
In a letter to Devon MP Neil Parish, the Prime Minister moved to allay fears the notorious A303-A30-A358 bottleneck had been kicked into the long grass.
Last summer, ministers announced the study as part of a £100 billion Government commitment to new infrastructure. But an analysis is unlikely to be finished before the 2015 general election.
Mr Cameron wrote, however, of the “strategic importance” of one of just two main roads connecting the South West peninsula to the rest of the country, and that the study will map out investment priorities.
A campaign led by county councils claims effectively creating a dual carriageway from the M5 in Devon to the M3 in Hampshire would create more than 21,000 jobs.
The Prime Minister said: “I very much recognise the strategic importance of this corridor and therefore of finding solutions to its problems, and one of the elements of the study process will be to try to reach agreement on the respective priorities for investment along the corridor.
“The Department (of Transport) expects this study to be completed by spring 2015. Through this feasibility study the Department will identify potential future investment proposals for the route and the priorities, as part of its process for longer term investment planning.”
He went on that “this Government is committed to finding solutions to the problems on the corridor”.
In December, Mr Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, met with the Transport Minister Robert Goodwill along with representatives from local authorities in Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, who all support dualling.
The minister has offered to come and drive the whole route of the A303 and A30 to see for himself the challenges faced by Westcountry motorists and visitors on this road.
Mr Parish said: “Plans to improve this road and make it a second strategic route into the South West have been in the pipeline for the last 15 years but have never come to fruition after the last Labour government cancelled the project.
“Dualling this road would undoubtedly alleviate congestion on the M5 and act as a vital backup route.
“Businesses in Devon are very vulnerable to disruption on the M5 and congestion, especially during the tourist season, is a real concern. There must be a second strategic route that is dualled all the way into the Westcountry.
“The A303 and A30 between Honiton and Ilminster is the only other major road into the Westcountry and for much of this it is a single carriageway that is very susceptible to traffic jams.
“The Minister, Robert Goodwill, has also written to me following our meeting in December asking for my input into the development of the feasibility study.”
The timing of the complete report, which will determine the scale and cost of improvements on an often snarled-up stretch of road, could clash with the May election that year.
In 2004, plans to improve the route through the Blackdown Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – were abandoned.
Instead, upgrading the A358 from Ilminster to the M5 motorway at Taunton was given the go-head, despite business leaders in Devon and Cornwall complaining it would take people away from the far South West.
However, the plan was shelved. Another conundrum will be navigating a road past Stonehenge in Wiltshire, which is an infamous pinch-point.