The multi-million pound upgrade to a vital transport link in Suffolk and Norfolk reached its completion today with the official opening of the new A11 dual carriageway.
The road between Thetford and Barton Mills was opened by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin, and West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock and South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss were among those attending the hotly anticipated event.
The £105 million project to convert the final nine-mile stretch of single carriageway on the trunk road has taken just under two years to complete.
It is hoped the improvements will ease traffic congestion in the area, particularly around Brandon and Elveden, provide a boost to the local economy and increase road safety.
Mr McLoughlin said: “I am delighted to be here for the completion of the dualling of the A11, which will make such a difference to this region. I am very glad to see that the promises made in the past have been brought to a conclusion today.
“It is a part of the infrastructure which East Anglia needs. If we are going to ensure that the region can compete, we have got to be sure we give it the best infrastructure possible. I hope what we are doing today shows how serious we are.
“It will be a huge boost to the area. People have been talking about the need to invest in the future - this is the future, and it is today, and we have to make sure we continue to invest in other infrastructure across the region.”
Mr Hancock said: “It is a great day for West Suffolk. It has been a huge team effort over many years, and it is a pleasure to have played a small part.
“I campaigned in 2010 pledging to fight for this road. I was thrilled when we received the funding and to see it delivered ahead of schedule and under budget is a real thrill, because I know just how much it means to many of my constituents in Suffolk.”
Ms Truss said: “It is just fanstatic, I have driven along the road this morning and it is completely different from the previous situation.
“It is so important for creating jobs in the area and for companies looking to relocate, and we are hoping it will make a real difference to local traffic problems.”
The road’s construction used 4,000 cubic metres of concrete and 1,500 tonnes of steel and involved the creation of five new bridges and a non-motorised underpass for use by pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders, which was opened by Mr Hancock this morning.
Before cutting the ribbon, Mr Hancock said: “Everyone talks about the importance of this road for Norfolk and the economic benefits, but there are social benefits for Suffolk too. It will be easier to cross this road than the old one and that is worth celebrating.”
Highways Agency chief executive Graham Dalton said: “The work to dual the A11 has been an enormous task and the project team, including our contractor Balfour Beatty, have worked tirelessly to complete a high quality dual carriageway between Norwich, London and the Midlands.
“The new dual carriageway will benefit road users and local people by improving road safety and reducing journey times by removing the bottlenecks that have caused congestion.”
Suffolk County Council cabinet member for roads, transport and planning Graham Newman said: “It is an absolutely fabulous day and it is going to mean a huge amount to the economy of East Anglia.
“This part of the country is producing some great economic output at the moment. This is the first of a number of things we need to do. People are still put off travelling here because of the road network, and we need to improve that situation.”
Leader of Forest Heath District Council James Waters said: “East Anglia is one of only three areas in the country which contributes to the country’s economy. We have got to invest in success, this is where the money is produced so you need to put back so we can grow, there are masses of opportunities here but to enhance that we need top road infrastructure.
“This is a footing which we can now start to build upon. We are an ambitious council and the completion of the A11 represents massive opportunities for our businesses to grow, expand and take on new jobs. It will also make our district more accessible for tourism.”
Suffolk Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Dugmore said: “Despite years of under investment in this route we have lobbied long and hard with our partners for this moment. Today is great news for our existing businesses and new investors alike as we finally begin to unlock the business and economic potential of East Anglia.”
Leader of Breckland District Council Michael Wassell has hailed the opening of the A11 as a ‘new dawn’ for the district, allowing it to grow and bringing benefits for residents and businesses.
“We have been working for some time with public and private sector partners to bring about this improvement to local infrastructure,” he said.
“I’m therefore delighted that the improved A11 is now open. I believe it will herald a new dawn for business communities and local residents and will support local jobs, the economy and overall regeneration of the district and surrounding areas.”
Earlier today Forest Heath District Council and the Thetford Business Forum co-hosted a breakfast meeting at the Elveden Courtyard, a chance for business and political leaders to consider how to make use of the potential opened up by the A11 corridor.
Bosses from the East of England Ambulance service have also welcomed the road’s completion, which will help improve safety and response times.
Locality director for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Matt Broad said: “The opening of this A11 upgrade is very welcome news for everyone using this important route, particularly for our ambulance crews attending medical emergencies such as cardiac arrests when every second counts.”