|Location Map ( geo)|
|Via:||Bishop's Stortford, Braintree, Colchester|
|Distance:||63.2 miles (101.7 km)|
|Meets:||A10, A1184, A1250, B1383, M11, B1256, B1008, B1417, B1018, A131, B1024, A12, A1232, A133, B1035, B1352, A136|
|Old route now:||A1250, B1256|
|Route outline (key)|
- 1 Route
- 2 Planned
- 3 History
- 4 Videos
- 5 Links
Section 1: Puckeridge – M11
The A120 starts at a roundabout on the A10 to the south-west of Puckeridge. (The roundabout was modified in the 2000s to accommodate the A10 Wadesmill bypass, so A120 westbound traffic now has a filter lane to travel south on the A10). The A120 heads east up a hill, bypassing the village of Puckeridge, travelling down the hill into Standon. The road is single carriageway at this stage and has a pelican crossing and frequent mobile/police speed checks through Standon village. Up until the late 1980s, Puckeridge was the signed destination for much of the westbound A120, giving the impression of a much bigger and more important place than it actually is. Now, Hertford is signed instead, though some Puckeridge signs still remain on side roads, for example this one near Coggeshall in Essex.
Prior to the opening of the A10 Puckeridge bypass, the A120 followed a different course, starting in Puckeridge village itself, before heading parallel to the railway along Station Road, with Kent's Lane (the current course) being an unclassified road. This rerouting occurred between 1966 and 1973 according to OS maps.
We continue east up another hill, round a few sweeping bends until we join the Roman alignment of Stane Street at Horse Cross. The straight alignment has one or two crests which reduce visibility to the point where overtaking becomes hazardous. Then suddenly, we come upon a queue of traffic waiting to pass through the notorious Little Hadham traffic signals. The problem is that the A120 narrows as it passes round a large 'S' bend, whilst also having a junction with a couple of side roads. Traffic signals were provided many years ago (mid 1970s?) to manage the traffic by alternating the direction of the main flow, but in the peak hour, the queues are significant. There have been plans over the years to bypass these signals, either as a local bypass or as part of an old plan to extend the A120 westwards towards Stevenage and the A1(M). In January 2017 Hertfordshire County Council obtained planning permission for a 3.9km long northern bypass to Little Hadham, which they hope to construct by 2019.
Continuing east, there is another short length of Stane Street before we reach the Bishop's Park roundabout on the western fringe of Bishops Stortford. The original A120 followed the present A1250 into Stortford, meeting the old A11 at another notorious set of signals at Hockerill Cross. The signals are still there, but both the A11 and A120 have been downgraded - the former by the construction of the M11 (the old road is the B1383), and the latter by the construction of a nondescript single-carriageway northern bypass to Bishop's Stortford, opened in the late 1970s. Westbound traffic on the bypass gets the benefit of a climbing lane on the western part of the bypass, but eastbound traffic has to make do with the single lane.
The Bishops' Stortford north eastern bypass,opened in June 1975, continues from the roundabout with the B1383 (former A11), where the eastbound exit has a poor alignment. The exit is straight alongside the splitter island, and then has a sharpish left to pick up the main route alignment. This link was opened in around 1976, at the same time as the M11 between Bishop's Stortford and Harlow.
We pass another roundabout, built in the early 1990s, which picks up the east end of the A1250 which previously ran directly to the M11 junction 8 roundabout. This roundabout and diversion of the A1250 was built along with the construction of Birchanger Green services, which takes the A1250's old entrance to the roundabout. Then, a few hundred yards later we reach the M11 (junction 8). This beast of a roundabout serves the A120, Stansted Airport, and a motorway service area and was always clogged with traffic. Although opened without traffic signals, the roundabout has certainly been signalised since the opening of the service area, and has been further improved more recently to help with the congestion caused by the expansion of London Stansted and Bishop's Stortford town, the addition of the service area, and the A120 improvements. Initially a short length of carriageway was built to allow M11 southbound traffic to bypass the Airport and A120 exits and yellow boxes have been provided. In 2003, the long-awaited direct slips were provided between the M11 (to/from the south) and the Airport Access road.
Section 2: M11 – Marks Tey
Until December 2003, the A120 followed a single carriageway alignment, still on the Roman road, through Takeley and on to Great Dunmow and Braintree. The Four Ashes traffic signals in Takeley were notoriously congested. In December 2003 (Stansted to Dunmow West) and July 2004 (Dunmow West to Braintree), this road was bypassed by a new dual carriageway alignment running from the Airport Access Road to Braintree; the old road is now the B1256. The Airport Access Road (known as Thremall Avenue) itself was opened as an unclassified dual carriageway in September 1986, with earthworks provided to allow the future A120 to turn off Thremall Avenue which would have remained the through route. When the extension to Braintree was built, the earthworks were remodelled to make the A120 the main line, with the westbound airport access flying over the new A120 in its current layout.
Traffic coming from London on the M11 can therefore now join the A120 by direct free-flow slips which were officially opened to traffic on Friday 6th December 2002. From Stansted Airport, the A120 continues east, skirting to the north of Takeley. If the second runway proposal for Stansted is ever completed, then the new A120 is likely to form the southern boundary to the airport. The entire section of the A120 from the M11 to Marks Tey became a Trunk Road on 7th March 2005 as a result of an order made by the Secretary of State for Transport on 7th February 2005. Consequently, with the exception of the short section from the B1383 to the M11, all of the A120 within Essex is now managed by Highways England.
Soon after leaving the airport we pass rest areas on either side of the road, before running to the south of Great Dunmow. The present dual carriageway is the second Great Dunmow bypass for the A120. An earlier single carriageway bypass opened in November 1979, is now designated as B1256 and runs much closer to the town along the former track bed of the Stortford, Dunmow and Braintree railway.
To the east of Great Dunmow the new dual carriageway soon joins the Rayne and Braintree bypass, originally opened in July 1989 as a mixture of wide single carriageway (around Rayne) and dual carriageway (around Braintree). The Rayne bypass was widened to dual carriageway as part of the 2004 A120 Stansted to Braintree dualling. The bypass runs to the south of Braintree, turning northwards at a roundabout with the B1018.
At the next roundabout, the dual carriageway ends and the A120 turns right onto yet more single-carriageway road. A pedestrian crossing was installed at Bradwell in 2009 to improve the road for pedestrians. However, the new road layout was deemed unsuitable for wide vehicles, the central traffic island forcing them onto the pavement posing a threat to pedestrians, necessitating remedial work. Apart from that it's largely unimproved except for a lengthy bypass around the north of Coggeshall, opened in July 1983. Shortly after, the A120 reaches Marks Tey where it joins the A12 at a modified dumbbell interchange.
Section 3: Marks Tey – Harwich
The A120 multiplexes with the A12 for nearly eight miles as far as the Colchester bypass where it turns off the A12 via a freeflow interchange towards Harwich on the Colchester Eastern Bypass. This eight mile of dual carriageway, which ends just after a spur leading to the A133, was opened as A120 in 1982. From here it is back to single carriageway for the final haul to Harwich. This corridor was not classified in the original 1922/3 list, but was the B1352 by 1928. In 1947, the road was reclassified again, this time as the A604. It became the A120 in 1982 when the Colchester eastern bypass opened.
On the edge of Harwich the tiny A136 turns off at a roundabout, heading towards Parkeston Quay, the international terminal for ferries to Denmark and the Netherlands. The A120 continues ahead to the north of the residential area to run the full length of the town quay, ending where the roads bends to the right and becomes unclassified.
Braintree – Marks Tey consultation
There is a big unanswered question. Why spend £80M dualling the A120 between Stansted and Braintree, then leave the last 8 miles to the A12 as single carriageway. Has Braintree become such a major destination that most of the traffic stops there? Certainly the Freeport retail and leisure park is a major destination, but that was more a case of development taking advantage of a good road link than the other way round. The pressure on the remaining single carriageway section between Braintree and the A12 will become so intolerable that it will be necessary to dual this as well. A report by the Road Safety Foundation found the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey to be the 10th most dangerous in the country.
West Tey Consortium
The West Tey Consortium are plans put forward to build a brand new village, with between six and ten thousand homes plus other amenities between Coggeshall and Marks Tey. If the plans were to go ahead then the landowners say that they will upgrade the A120, including a brand new "Marks Tey Bypass" to coincide with improvements to the A12. There are hopes that the realignment is built within five years time and the first houses going up just two years after that. All the proposals are part of development in the east of England between 2011 and 2031.
Further Birchanger Green improvements
There have been several proposals for further improvements at Birchanger Green, both tied to potential increases in capacity at Stansted, as well as generally to support growth in the area. These include an M11 J8a to provide an additional north facing free flow access as well as a more recent consultation on capacity improvements.
New Junction with Millennium Way
A new junction is planned with Millennium Way in Braintree. Consisting of westbound facing sliproads only, the objective is to relieve traffic at Galley's Corner.
Originally the A120 ran only between the A10 at Puckeridge and the A12 at Marks Tey. The direct road from Colchester to Harwich was originally unclassified in 1922, before gaining Class II status (as the B1352), and was upgraded to Class I status after World War II, becoming part of the mighty A604. That road started disappearing in the late 20th century, with the section from Colchester to Harwich being one of the first sections to go in 1982. It was renumbered as part of the A120, to tie into the new Colchester Eastern Bypass, thus giving that road a long multiplex along the A12. Bypasses and upgrades aside, this forms the current A120.
Hertfordshire County Council consulted on improvements to the A120 at Standon in spring 2016: http://www.hertsdirect.org/services/transtreets/mts/a120standimprove/ Three options were proposed; a bypass to the south of the village, a bypass to the north of the village and Puckeridge, and on-line improvements. Hertfordshire County Council has reported that the consultation found that most residents preferred a bypass, but there was no agreement on whether it should go north or south of Standon. Therefore the council agreed in June 2016 to pursue on-line improvements to the existing road for the short to medium term. These improvements were constructed from late 2018 to early 2019 and involved junction improvements including signalisation of some of the key junctions, urban realm improvement, and improved bus/pedestrian access. Further urban realm improvements were added in 2020, with additional build outs being added
Little Hadham bypass
Hertfordshire County Council started work in early 2019 to bypass Little Hadham. The current plan which received planning permission in January 2017 is to build a single carriageway bypass to the north, connecting with the existing A120 to the east and west of the hamlet. The plan involves crawler lanes up each side of the valley to the north of the village and also incorporates significant flood relief measures through the construction of two large embankments with culverts and spillways to hold back water from Little Hadham village. The scheme is therefore being promoted jointly between Hertfordshire County Council and the Environment Agency.
- The Hertfordshire County Council (A120 (Little Hadham) Bypass Classified Road) (Side Roads) Order 2017
Essex County Council
- Highways Agency: Braintree to Marks Tey 2005 consultation document
- Highways Agency archive: The cancelled A120 Braintree – Marks Tey project
- The Braintree to Marks Tey 2017 consultation document (archive.org)