Changes to bottle-neck Air Balloon roundabout could lead to "rat runs"
IT is renowned as one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the UK.
So eyebrows were raised this month when proposals were tabled to make drastic changes to the Air Balloon roundabout near Cheltenham.
The Highways Agency has come up with a new idea which it believes will not only keep vehicles moving but will cut down on pollution.
But fears have been raised by surrounding villages that the changes being suggested could turn their streets into rat runs.
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In this week's Five Minute Feature – Joe Lane looks at the far-reaching impact such changes could have.
"MAKING these changes to the Air Balloon roundabout will just shift a problem the Highways Agency has pussyfooted around for years".
Those of the sentiments of people who live near the problematic junction, which is a notorious "pinch-point" for traffic and has also been the site of many accidents.
The Highways Agency wants to introduce a no right turn rule for vehicles travelling down the hill on the A417 from Cirencester, which it claims could ease traffic flow and improve poor air quality caused by stagnant exhaust fumes.
It would, however, mean those travelling towards Cheltenham along the route would either have to continue all the way down the A417 until turning off at the Shurdington Road – or alternatively cut through village "rat runs" in the area.
Mike Cuttell, a campaigner who lives in Ullenwood, said any moves to block off the Cheltenham turning for motorists travelling along the A417 from Cirencester would do little more than push the congestion and poor air quality elsewhere.
Immediate problems, he claimed, would be a build-up of traffic along the A436 – and a corresponding deterioration in air quality there – as well as increased pressure on surrounding routes, including the Shurdington Road and village "rat-runs" through Elkstone, Coberley and Cowley.
"This plan has not been properly thought out and it must not be allowed to go ahead," said Mr Cuttell.
"It will infuriate thousands of people – from those who live in the area to the commuters who travel up the A417 from the south.
"For a start we would get more traffic build up on the A436, which in turn would make it much harder for people pulling out from Leckhampton Hill.
"And it takes little imagination to realise such a scheme would put much more pressure on roads such as the A435 and the Shurdington Road.
"Meanwhile, some motorists travelling towards Cheltenham will choose to thunder through villages such as Elkstone, Cowley and Coberley, creating major problems in those communities."
Around 30,000 vehicles travel through the roundabout each day, despite its limited capacity.
It is part of a section of road known as the "missing link" – a single stretch of carriageway on the A417/A419 route which links the M4 at Swindon to the M5 near Cheltenham.
Mr Cuttell said the problem of congestion on the route would only ever be solved by resurrecting plans to build an underground tunnel which were discarded by the Highways Agency in 2002.
"The inescapable fact is that the only sensible solution is the construction of a tunnel from Nettleton Bottom to Bentham," he added.
"What the Highways Agency need to realise is that this problem is not going to go away – and these latest plans are certainly not the answer."
His opposition to the scheme has been reinforced by community leaders in Shurdington and villages in danger of being used as cut-through routes.
Residents and councillors in the area are planning to hold a meeting early in the new year to coordinate their opposition.
A spokesman for the Highways Agency insisted the plans were not a foregone conclusion.
But he added that the proposal could be piloted next year for a period of up to 18 months.