Five years on, what difference has the full dualling of the A11 made?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 05 June 2019 | UPDATED: 06:56 05 June 2019
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2015
I never thought a road would transform my life - but five years on, I have to admit the dualling of the A11 really has been the route to happiness.
This year marks the fifth anniversary that the key link between Norfolk and Suffolk was finally, after years of campaigning, made a dual carriageway for its entire length.
Most of the road between Norwich and Newmarket was already two lanes - but those born and bred in the area will shudder at the memory of the horrible former single lane stretch through Elveden.
Many drivers spent frustrating hours stuck behind lorries and in seemingly never-ending queues at peak periods.
It was even worse for the villagers of Elveden, who for years had to endure hundreds of cars and lorries trooping past their homes day after day - with little respite from the noise and pollution.
So when cars first started using the road, which bypassed Elveden completely, in May 2014 it brought great hope that it would improve the lives of thousands of people.
What have the benefits of the A11 been?
As a journalist covering South Norfolk at the time, one of my first jobs was to drive the route of the new road.
As I did, I must admit I was sceptical about the wider benefits it would bring.
Sure, it was much more pleasant drive and the traffic jams of the past disappeared in an instant.
But was this going to have the economic benefit the government trumpeted? Would it only benefit a small number of people? Was it worth the multi-million pound cost?
I very quickly concluded that it was.
Soon after, I became a regular user of the new road to travel between my new job in Lowestoft and my family in Cambridge at weekends.
To say it was a godsend would be an understatement. Lowestoft to Cambridge is not the shortest of journeys at the best of times - and while the stretch between Mildenhall and Thetford might only be eight miles or so, the old single carriageway significantly lengthened it.
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I may well be supporting it for my own selfish reasons, but put bluntly the A11 opened my doors to jobs in Norfolk and Suffolk that I previously would have discounted because they were too far away from home.
It had the same benefit for others. Suddenly, people could access jobs, opportunities and activities previously closed off to them. Even a holiday to Center Parcs became a viable option for many.
It also had a huge benefit to businesses. Many firms told me the road gave them the chance to do deals in London and further afield because the capital was now accessible within little more than an hour, literally growing their customer base.
Mike Brown - founder of a series of business forums in South Norfolk, who was one of those who led the campaign for a fully dualled A11 - said: "I think it's been fantastic. It's increased tremendously the amount of investment going into the area.
"People are chooisng to come here now because they haven't got to go through that drama. Lots more people are spending time in this area.
"It isn't just people coming up here to stay. More people are coming here for the day - they wouldn't have done that before.
"It's really improved the visitor economy, as well as the infrastructure."
Any new road building project is not without its controversies. To build a route somewhere means a much sought-after project elsewhere misses out. Commuters on the A14 in Cambridgeshire, for example, have had to wait longer.
And who's to say that the A11 hasn't just encouraged car use at a time when, for environmental reasons, we probably ought to be using our vehicles less?
However talk to anyone in Norfolk or Suffolk and I bet they'll tell you just what a huge difference the A11 has made to their lives. It was a costly investment, but a worthwhile one - especially in such a rural county which has historically struggled with transport links.
Need for other transport improvements
Call me greedy though, but seeing the huge benefits of the A11 has convinced me just what a difference other transport improvements in the region would make.
Coastal areas in particular are being held back by the A47 and the A12, the latter of which frustratingly winds through village after village between Lowestoft and Ipswich, as well as their poor rail links.
Both Norfolk and Suffolk have wonderful assets which we want the rest of region - and indeed the country - to enjoy. Yet we are in stiff competition with other parts of the country for staycations and day trippers, many of which have easy and convenient transport links.
The A11 has opened the doors of our region to the rest of the UK, and vice versa. Let's continue to fight for better road and rail links to truly put Norfolk and Suffolk on the map.
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