MELKSHAM has been gripped by massive queues on the A350 with motorists complaining of delays of over 90 minutes at peak times.
Southbound tailbacks going back to the Stoney Gutter / West Ashton crossroads close to Yarnbrook and northbound to Lacock have been reported in the morning rush hour, while Melksham town centre has also faced gridlock.
The disruption has been blamed on the road closure on the town centre bridge on Bath Road. Works to install pedestrian barriers and improve kerbing on the bridge for structural reasons began earlier this month – and initially the bridge was closed to southbound traffic – a decision that Wiltshire Council has admitted did ‘not work well’.
The closure caused long tailbacks along the A350 from the Farmers Roundabout, back through Beanacre and on to Lacock and well past the A361 junction to Trowbridge, adding an hour or more to the normal drive time. Local drivers reported waiting in traffic for nearly 90 minutes, compared to their usual 20- minute journey.
“It’s just crazy,” one motorist told Melksham News. “It took me more than an hour to get to Melksham from Westbury this morning – and I didn’t have to go down the bypass to the Farmers Roundabout, so what that was like is anyone’s guess.”
Another said, “I came in this morning and it was already gridlocked at ten past seven. It’s chaos.”
In response to the congestion, Wiltshire Council reversed the direction of the closure on the bridge, closing it to northbound traffic for 21 days from last Sunday, 23rd February – a move they say should not have as ‘pronounced’ an effect on traffic as the southbound closure did.
Wiltshire Council has also come under fire for the length of time it is taking to carry out the works, with the completion date estimated to be Tuesday 5th May.
However, Wiltshire Council has said that they will be ‘significantly increasing the labour on site’ and ‘working extended days’ to try to complete the works in a reduced time.
One resident told Melksham News, “What they have done in a fortnight is unbelieveable – they’ve hardly done a thing. Three months is a long time to just put some curbs and railings in! Rather than do these works, why not put a weight limit on the bridge and save a load of money?!”
Local Wiltshire councillor, Phil Alford said, “The bridge works have a traffic management system in place that has underestimated the amount of traffic going through the town from the A350, leading to congestion at the roundabout.
“I wanted to see the direction on the bridge changed to alleviate the traffic and get rid of the back-up of lorries and cars that have become gridlocked along Beanacre and in Shaw.”
In response to the criticism, cllr Bridget Wayman, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for highways said, “All road closures are planned and assessed to minimise the impact on the travelling public, and we always try to keep disruption on our road network to a minimum.
“However, the works at town bridge in Melksham are essential to protect the structure, and we are installing barriers on the bridge for safety reasons, to prevent vehicles from mounting the footways.
“The decision to allow northbound traffic only across the bridge was taken in consultation with the town council and other local partners, but it has not worked as well as we had hoped.
“As such, we have installed a northbound closure across the bridge to ease problems during the evening peak for traffic heading from Chippenham towards Melksham.
“The work on the bridge should be completed towards the end of April.”
Principal technical officer at Wiltshire Council Julian Haines, also said, “As you will no doubt be aware the current way of controlling the traffic over the town bridge has not worked as well as had been hoped and has led to long tailbacks along the A350 approaching the town from the Chippenham direction in the evening.
“It appears that prior to our works a significant volume of traffic heading south on the A350 and heading towards the eastern side of the town would have used the town bridge and town centre roads instead of the bypass, now that route is not available the traffic light phasing and road markings on Farmers Roundabout are no longer optimised and has led to congestion. We believe that the direction of flow needs to be reversed so that the south bound traffic on the A350 works as normal, it is thought that the knock on effect to the northbound A350 traffic will not be as pronounced.”