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A30/History - M5 to Okehampton

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The start of things to come

It may be obvious to most people why Devon got two fully dualled and mostly grade-separated Dual Carriageways from Exeter running both north and south of Dartmoor. One connected the Naval port and City of Plymouth. The other connected to a whole county. Cornwall.

Most people in Cornwall take the A30 for granted these days and constantly moan about the niggles that the current road in the county, but these are nothing in comparison to getting a route through West Devon to get people in and out of Cornwall in under 2 hours, compared to well over 3 hours that was easily the norm 40 years ago. Here is how the A30 was dualled from the M5 to Okehampton.

Exeter Bypass

Lets start at the first bypass near the A30 through Devon. Exeter was almost gridlocked with traffic when Holiday Season came every summer. Both the A30 with traffic from the east and the A38 with traffic from the Midlands and the north met in the middle of Exeter and this would cause traffic to get so bad that the A38 needed a bypass. So, the A38 was put on a bridge over the A30 and to the south of Exeter. With A38 traffic removed from the centre of Exeter, life was a little easier for the A30, but sadly not by much. A30 traffic was directed via the bypass, even the number wasn't. The bypass was finally completed in 1938 but it was only another 30 years before traffic on the bypass was no better than it once was. Things needed to change.

Some improvement is better than none

The A30 saw a few minor improvements throughout the 1960's, including this small realignment near South Zeal

In 1967, there were finally a start to some improvements to the A30. Bridestowe was to get a mile long bypass and there were some small improvements in Lewdown. Yes, that was it. No mention of the other 30 odd miles of the road to Exeter. The A38 had become a priority within Westminster, probably due to the highly anticipated motorway from the Midlands, the M5. Fortunately though, 1970 saw the start of things to come for the A30. Two MP's stood up to ask when work would start on the A30. The reply was dualling was in it's early planning stages and it was being considered from the A303 to Okehampton! Bridestowe still didn't have it's bypass though, but by December Whiddon Down to Tongue End was about to be surveyed and this meant relief for Sticklepath and South Zeal, which were very twisty sections of road.

Then, rather out of the blue considering the very slow progress seen so far, the Secretary of State for the Environment stated in 1972, A30 improvements by the end of the 1970's. The reply from the MP that asked him about that though was not one of joy, but one of utter disappointment! He wanted the road completed sooner! He was then told that there was a longer term plan for the road though. This was good news for everyone involved. 1973 saw more questions being asked. The contract for Exeter to Okehampton was going up for tender in 1975, which suggested completion between 1978 and 1980. Sadly, like the upstarted schemes in Cornwall, as well at those around the country, the mid 70's saw lots of projects postponed or cancelled.

It wasn't all bad news though. A new report in 1976 suggested 4 new schemes, and 3 of those between Exeter and Okehampton which were all connected to the M5.

You wait for one bypass, and then 3 come at once

The M5 junction at Pearce's Hill has remained much the same since completion in 1977

1977 and 1978 were good years for Devon, as most of the road was under construction from Exeter to Okehampton. First to open was the section from the M5 to Pocombe Bridge in 1977, although a smaller section had opened on October 22nd 1975. This was from a half rbt off the A38 Exeter bypass, built over the alignment from the M5. This allowed a section of dual carriageway to open as far as Alphington, to meet the A377. A link to the A30 at Pocombe Bridge via Ide was opened on November 28th 1975, thus bypassing the west side of Exeter. This arrangement lasted until May 1977, when the M5 was completed, the roundabout was removed and the full link opened. This arrangement didn't last long though. Both Tedburn St Mary and Pathfinder Village were bypassed on May 4 1978, and this then connected to the next contract at Cheriton Bishop, which was another dual carriageway bypass for Cheriton Bishop to Whiddon Down, opened on June 28 1978, where it ended at the infamous Merrymeet Roundabout. Before you knew it, you were halfway through Devon on a brand new dual carriageway, whereas only 2 years previously, you were stuck in queues through many small villages on the way. Quite understandably, road construction slowed down for a while. But with the Eighties on the Horizon, confusion and the economy got in the way of things for a while.

It is also worth mentioning that there was a small section of dual carriageway created on the most western side of the A30 in Devon. Due to the terrain, the Launceston bypass extended over the River Tamar, the historical border between Devon and Cornwall, to Lifton where it rejoined the old route. The first cars were let onto the new road in March 1976.

Half way there, but another half to go

The Seventies had been kind to Devon. The A38 was nearing completion of it's dualling scheme through Devon and the A30 was becoming the road it needed to be to cope with the growing traffic levels into Cornwall. But the incoming Conservatives had a few issues to sort out first. Mainly little things called the economy and debt. With that beginning to clear up, questions were being asked around the South West peninsular when the road network was going to see it's upgrades again. In 1982, Whiddon Down to Okehampton was starting to be pushed through, although very slowly, with the Okehampton Bypass and the Okehampton to Launceston improvements and to be completed by 1993. Okehampton Bypass as well as the Whiddon Down section were being planned as Dual Carriageways. However, Okehampton to Launceston was not for the same reason that Cornwall was going to get single carriageway sections between it's new bypasses. It wouldn't pass the the cost benefit analysis. This didn't go down well locally, but construction would not start until Okehampton was bypassed. All of the construction along the A30 depended on Okehampton as without it, there was not much point in building the rest. Where Whiddon Down and Okehampton to Launceston were relatively simple schemes, the Okehampton Bypass was so divisive it would create uproar in Parliament.

Ploughing through Dartmoor

With pressure mounting from Cornwall and Devon to get the next phase of dualling of the A30 through planning, their calls were finally answered in 1985 when the then Secretary for State for Transport addressed the House of Commons with a bold statement:

The House will know that earlier this year the Government's compulsory purchase orders for a route for the bypass to the south of the town were referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament under the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act 1945. That Committee, by a majority of four to two, recommended rejecting the orders, and proposed instead a route to the north of the town. This recommendation was contrary to that of the independent inspector, who held a 96-day public inquiry during which all the issues were exhaustively discussed. He endorsed the southern route which has been the route preferred by all successive Administrations since 1976. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I agreed with the inspector, that the balance of environmental and economic advantage lies in favour of the southern route, and we proceeded to make the orders. - The Rt. Hon Mr Nicholas Ridley MP ([[1]])

The A30 was ploughed through Dartmoor National Park, partly on split carriageways

What Mr Ridley had done was not only reject a recommendation from a committee of people from the local area, he had pursued Compulsory Purchase Orders for land that was almost in it's entirety in Dartmoor National Park. The House of Commons erupted in to a sea of protests and support for the decision. Most of the protest came from MP's who's constituencies where further north; support came from both Devon and Cornwall. But Mr Ridley was correct, no matter how challenging the terrain or the protests for construction of a trunk road in a National Park, the only alternative was a northern route which wouldn't be completed within 10 years. This way Okehampton, which had become unbearable for all traffic by then, would get a bypass within 3. And with that, Whiddon Down to Tongues End Cross, east of Okehampton, would get the green light as well as it had been dependent on Okehampton getting the go ahead.

With that, construction on the highly controversial route began in November 1986, and by 1987 the Whiddon Down to Okehampton was completed and ready to open with provision to connect to the Okehampton bypass and by November 1988, Okehampton was bypassed and the dual carriageway extended to Sourton Cross where it met a roundabout with the old road through Okehampton. There was then only one section to go and it was a big one, but the previous single carriageway plans were going to get a makeover!

Roads for Prosperity

The A30 crosses the River Taw between Okehampton and Launceston

1989 envisaged massive changes for the trunk road network. This would stretch from the northern reaches of England all the way to Cornwall, which was still not connected in any way, shape or form, to the Motorway network by a dual carriageway. The A38 was very close but the Tamar Bridge is only three lanes wide. The A30 managed to cross the Cornwall-Devon border as a Dual Carriageway, but then ended just outside of the village of Lifton. Launceston needed to be connected to Okehampton.

The scheme was proposed in 1989 and the orders were subsequently published. The route continued from the end of the Launceston Bypass to the south of Broadwoodwidger. It remained far north of the old route for most of its 13 mile route until it met it again at Sourton Cross, where a grade separated junction was created with it and the A386, and then another with the old route into Okehampton. Construction started in 1991 and it was finally completed in 1993. This is a rare case where an earlier prediction for road completion actually came true, and the road was even constructed to a higher standard than planned originally.

Final Improvements

Merrymeet Roundabout was finally replaced by a new Junction in 2006, bringing relief to many tourists

Apart from the usual maintenance and some junction work at Pearce's Hill, the only work that was done to the route through Devon was the removal of the only roundabout between Exeter and (at the time) Bodmin. Merrymeet Roundabout was a relic of the 1970's dualling, when the Whiddon Down to Launceston schemes had not been confirmed yet. The junction was finally removed in 2006, which was just before the opening of the Goss Moor Bypass in Cornwall, and meant there was for all but 3 miles, a Dual Carriageway to Carland Cross, north of Truro.

And in case you were wondering, Bridestowe did get its bypass before Okehampton, in February 1976.

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A30-A33 - Coppermine - 12417.jpgSecond B Road exit - or second from last - Coppermine - 21789.jpgB389 at junction of A30, Virginia Water (C) David Howard - Geograph - 2315852.jpgRoad, rail and sea; from the air - Geograph - 3151543.jpgCarland Cross roundabout from A39 - Geograph - 4043663.jpg


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