Saturday 5 October 2013

Newport's M4 coronary bypass

The public are now being consulted on options for
an M4 Newport bypass. Again.
(Pic : ITV Wales)

A public consultation on the proposed M4 relief road around Newport was launched by the Welsh Government in the last fortnight.

Woah!....Hang on a minute....I'm getting a strange....feeling....of
déjà vu.

Because of the M4's vital importance to the whole of south east Wales, the consultation appears to be open to everyone (not just Newport, Cardiff, Torfaen & Monmouthshire residents), and responses are due by 16th December 2013. You can find out more information, and the consultation documents, at this website.

A brief history

You all know why there's continued calls for a Newport bypass : accidents and congestion around the Brynglas tunnels and low speed limits due to the curvy nature of the M4 through Newport. Problems said to "clog the arteries of the south east Wales economy etc."

Initial plans for an M4 relief road were scrapped in 2009 due to concerns about costs. Some modifications and upgrades were made to roads around Newport instead, including a duel carriageway to the south of Llanwern steelworks which opened recently.

Then, the Welsh Government went back to the drawing board, and between 2011 and 2012 launched another consultation. This time, the emerging plan was for the current M4 to be widened, including the Brynglas tunnels themselves. However, Friends of the Earth Cymru described the process as "shambolic". Some aspects - in particular some data used to support the project - potentially left the Welsh Government open to a legal challenge. Those plans were quietly sidelined.

With borrowing powers on the table, and with Westminster keen to prove they're friends of Wales, we've finally come full circle to option one – an M4 Newport bypass. Costs don't seem to be concerning anyone this time, even though the question of how they're actually going to pay for it is, as yet, unanswered.

Will there be a toll? Will the toll gates move from the Severn bridges to the new M4 (more on that from Plaid Monmouth)? When will we know if the Welsh Government will even get borrowing powers?

Current cost estimates, AFAIK, are still around the £1billion range, with the South Wales Chamber of Commerce estimating a new M4 would boost the Welsh economy by £2.1billion.

The Options

The (latest) three options for the M4 Newport bypass
(taken from M4Newport website, click to enlarge)
The draft plans present three options (illustrated above) :
  • Black Route (the preferred option) – Leaves the M4 at Castleton, dips south of Duffryn and the Docks Way landfill site, crosses directly through Newport Docks/River Usk, south of Llanwern and Glan Llyn, rejoining the M4 at Magor.
  • Red Route – Leaves the M4 at Castleton, passes closest to Duffryn, north of the Docks Way landfill site, crosses Newport Docks/River Usk further north than the black route, then follows the same route to Magor.
  • Purple Route – As the red route, but crosses the River Usk further north and is a bit further away from Duffryn.

All three go through the Gwent Levels site(s) of special scientific interest.

There would also be several complimentary measures included alongside the bypass :
  • Improvements to traffic management on the current M4 (which would presumably become the M48 once any bypass is completed).
  • A new link road between the M48 and B4245 in Rogiet to serve a future Severn Tunnel Junction park & ride.
  • Unspecified improvements to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

What if the bypass isn't built?

This is described as a "do minimum" scenario. If the bypass is rejected, the Welsh Government believe it would result in; unspecified negative effects on the economy of south east Wales, longer journey times thus reducing the travel to work area, higher levels of noise and air pollution near to the existing M4 and a greater risk of accidents (mostly due to rear-end shunts in stop-start traffic).

It's worth pointing out that keeping things the way they are would have a negligible impact on current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, nor would it have any additional impact on either the wider Newport environment (except right next to the M4) or the Gwent Levels.

Why aren't alternatives included in the consultation?

If you have artery problems, a visit to the heart surgeon is to be avoided,
not put to the top of the list. You try the lifestyle changes first.
(Pic :
I still maintain that a completely new M4 bypass is excessive (more for costs than the principle of a new road), so I'm inclined to oppose this. If I had to choose, I would've stuck with the "coronary stent option"  - the 2011-2012 plans to widen the existing M4 - or at very least remodel the M4 through Newport to discourage local traffic from using it (closing slip roads etc).

As Freshwater PR's Steve Howell pointed out in the Western Mail on Monday, you have the South Wales Metro and SEWTA's plans for the Gwent area, both of which have hardly got a look in within this consultation.

The report says 43% of journeys on the M4 around Newport are for less than 20 miles. If a public transport system was developed in and around Cardiff, Newport and Bristol that could beat the car in terms of journey times, then logically, enough traffic could be taken off the M4 during peak times to avoid needing an M4 bypass in the first place.

And you might be able to do that for a lot less than £1billion.

When you have a blocked coronary artery – as the Newport M4 is sometimes described as - you don't immediately rush to go under the knife for a operation that carries severe risks, you usually make an attempt at lifestyle changes first.

Even if you do go under the knife, if you don't change your lifestyle alongside it, a bypass doesn't last very long. Yes, lifestyle changes would be difficult but you would have to face up to it at some point.

Think of lorries and cars as lard pies; think of buses, trains, walking and bikes as salad.


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